Gorgeous gowns and couture going back 100 years are part of a collection borrowed from the Brooklyn Museum of Art that’s closing soon at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. I love me a good fashion exhibition and all the better if it’s got vintage couture. So girlfriend and I drove up to see this amazing collection of dresses that were the height of fashion between 1910 and 1980. Halston was represented, so was Worth, Dior and Givenchy, not to mention Norell and Mainbocher, among others. Come along and see some of the highlights. Well, more like low lighting, for conservation, so the colors aren’t vivid, sadly. The same was true in person, But some dazzling designs, nonetheless.
These designs scream Roaring 20s, don’t they? You had to be slim with no breasts at all. Considered mild today, they were daring designs in the early 20th century. All the rage at Downton Abbey!
That’s because just a few short years earlier, women wore dresses like this, called “afternoon dresses.” By Jacques Doucet, 1903. As you can see, that general style lasted quite a long time, into Edwardian times. It’s reminiscent of dresses from the mid 1800s. All I can think of is how those outfits must have felt in the heat and humidity of a southern summer, when there was no A/C, you couldn’t jump in a pool and the only thing to do was faint.
I love this design, very art deco.
I can imagine an artist wearing this stunning ensemble. The column dress underneath was beautifully pleated, but the tunic makes the look.
I’m not sure if I love or hate this Elsa Schiaparelli flower-seed packet applique dress. One is a pocket. It’s a mix of homespun prairie and couture.
Here’s another Schiaparelli, a dinner ensemble, very body-conscious, as we say now.
Seriously one of my favorites of the exhibition, by the famous House of Worth in Paris, which features in many novels of the era. This evening dress, ca. 1938, is white, pink and purple silk taffeta chine. I love it. Close up, the construction is perfection. Examining couture closely, you can see that dress design is both creative design and good engineering, because the manipulation of fabric to make the look is so precise. Take a look at how the pattern fits together, and the pleating and gathers in the bodice were impressive. The House of Worth opened its doors 1958 and its haute couture (and ready to wear) was a favorite of the rich.Live models would show clients the ensembles, clients would choose and then measurements were taken and the outfits were made to order. The house was court designer to Empress Eugenie. It closed in 1956 but the brand was revived in 1999.
Stunning piece. The back of this robin’s egg blue evening dress by Givenchy, from 1960 flows gracefully.
I see this is as the late 1950s early 1960s look that it was.
A very pretty Christian Dior evening dress from around 1952-1953.
These were so of their era, weren’t they? On the left, by Madame Eta Hentz, a 1944 navy and white rayon dress, which was another one of my favorites from the show, high style, indeed! The 1937 dress on the right is called The Tarts and was designed by Elizabeth Hawes, a designer I didn’t know about before. She was an outspoken feminist and so were her clients. This suggestive motif included arrows appliqued on the front and back to draw attention to the wearer’s erogenous zones. Who knew?
I can’t remember who made this, but the designer traveled the world and worked here with Indian fabric. You can probably guess the era.
The Tigress, by Gilbert Adrian, 1949. It looks that era, no? That’s when outfits were given names like that. Fit for a movie star.
This James Galanos evening dress, 1955, was unbelievably beautiful. The layers of gossamer chiffon lent new meaning to a nautical theme. Another one of my favorites.
This evening ensemble by Arnold Scaasi, 1961, reminds me of a deck of playing cards and Vegas back in the day. I love it, but wouldn’t want to be seated if I wore it. Can you see the origin “current” bubble dress in it?
Charles James’ Clover Leaf ball gown, 1953. Pink silk faille, copper silk shantung, black silk lace with ivory silk faille backing. The museum added a high tech CAD reproduction of how this gown was built, and it looked like an incredible engineering feat. I don’t know how designers come up with this stuff. But it’s brilliant.
This is called “La Serene” evening dress, by Charles James, 1939. The black peau de soie is manipulated so beautifully, no? Take a closer look.
The woman wearing this couldn’t have a single figure flaw. But really, the most amazing part was how the fabric was gathered and pleated. Creative and beautiful.
And the showstopper. by Charles James:
Do you have a favorite of these? Did you know the names of the designers represented in this spectacular show?