Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Golden Age of Couture at the Frist

"Your clothes are all made by Balmain/ And there's diamonds and pearls in your hair..."

Just saw the couture exhibit at the Frist this week with my fiance's lovely mom... while strolling through the tangle of mannequins, Beaton prints, and Théâtre de la Mode dolls, we might've seemed, insidiously enough, more interested in the several beasts among the beauties-- dresses with beribboned, be-feathered, be-bustled, and honestly bewildering style choices, hidden in plain view, amongst some of the prettiest robes de soir you've ever seen! To the same nagging internal voice that tells me "Let's see YOU make something that complicated!"-- respectfully, my mother's "It takes as much time to make a good batch of cookies as it does an awful batch of cookies" comes to mind. You put 600 (wo)man hours into...that. Ok. Fair enough. Why couldn't you at least make it pretty?

First, the minor offenders.
Deb taught me the Yiddish word ongepotchket (which I can only spell grace à seems to sound more like "oongapacht")-- meaning "slapped together without form, excessively and unesthetically decorated". This word was repeated...well, repeatedly, throughout our viewing of the collection. "Ugh!" she'd exclaim, "Ongepotchket! I mean, seriously?", as we presque pressed our noses to the plexiglass, gawking at a lace explosion topped with a large bow towards the back of a Dior. A DIOR, mind you.

While the many of the items photograph admirably, I am here to say, in person, the dresses above and the ones that follow looked a hot mess. Flanking "maribou dream" (a dress nerve alone could not pull off... maybe nerve and actually being Lana Turner) to its left and right is a dress worn by Lady Alexandra, wife of the Naval attache to Paris--nice work if you can get it. At first glance, the dress was displayed in such a way as a passerby really couldn't get a good look at the back of it. When seen from the back, however, the bustle, puts it over the top and into Anna and the King of Siam territory. Something about the high neck and willowy bodice clashes awfully with the full, draped and semi-hooped skirt. While many high necked, bodice embellished, to-the-toe dresses of the 40's and 50's are gorgeous in their ability to make a girl look sexy without showing an ounce more skin than, say, a nun's habit (think Lauren Bacall), this one just doesn't do it for me. The same dress with a slim skirt would've been so much more fun. As for the feather one, no idea. All night you'd be brushing tiny bits of afterfeather out of your face. Another dress that is less lovely in person.

Major fashion crimes:

1) 2)

3) 4) 5)

While, understandably, I would probably wear any one of these dresses given the proper measurements and an excuse to go out, should we really "look to" these New Look dresses for inspiration? I couldn't believe the number of flat black, frippery-laden frocks in one place. How many of these, despite being vintage and couture, would put you on the lesser of Mr. Blackwell's lists?

1) Weird, saddle bag hip panels make no sense. An otherwise gorgeous velvet evening gown is turned bizarre-o. Notice that even the slim, slim, slim Harper's Bazaar-ette to the right can't quite pull it off without standing at a slight angle.

2) Simple dress turned strange by the explosion of tulle in the back. While it is necessary to make an impact in couture design, "less would've been more", please? I kind of thought that would be the entire point of the exhibit, in the vein of Chanel-- to take something LIKE THIS and deconstruct it into something less frou-frou. But no. Again, the side view is flattering-- from the front and back this dress was even more ungainly.

3) Those are wooden, spiral buttons all over. "Oh, what is that on that dress? Wooden buttons? Why are they all over the dress?". Just to be silly, I guess. Didn't work.

4 & 5) Possibly the specific dresses at which the teaching of the word "ongepotchket" was aimed. Looks a little like hornets have landed at spaced intervals all over the first dress. Both were drab and overwrought.
I understand the aim of couture to be statement-- I was just disappointed with the examples.

But enough negative thinking! On to the good stuff.

What I loved (cue My Special Angel by Bobby Helms as I dream a little dream of this ensemble) :

The two to the left: I love this suit. GOD, I love this suit. From the V&A website, the collection's home museum:

"'Bar' is one of the most important designs from Dior’s first collection. The tight-fitting jacket has padded hips which emphasise the tiny waist. The long pleated wool skirt, backed with cambric, is exceptionally heavy. "

Do you understand, there are essentially panniers under that skirt...??? Blows my mind. The idea that in 1947 (and again in 1955), you could do something that had been done, but in a new way, gives me hope for 2010.

One right: another example, a British take on the Dior. My beloved, aforementioned Bacall would have been proud. The right side of the jacket, and the way it curves, is so great.

I was fascinated when I checked out the exhibit website to see the condition in which Dior's Zémire originally came to the museum. This kid had a long and hard journey into the hands of the V & A, possibly being stored in a flooded Parisian basement and (haphazardly) altered for use in an amateur dramatic league. Look what conservation efforts can do for a piece!!

Last, but not least, Theatre de la Mode dolls.

I had no IDEA even couture houses had traveling samples! I've seen chests-of-drawers and Coca-Cola coolers and all sorts of odds and ends scaled small for portability and salesman-ease, but never a couture dress AND model! While the item to the left was my favorite (tiny) dress, the gal on the right is Miss Virginia Lachasse, modelled on a real clothing model for House of Lachasse in 1954. Below, you can see her (enormous) collection of accessories and clothes. A tiny mink coat, perfume, a cigarette case with cigarettes and lighter, and what is thought to be the tiniest pair of stockings ever produced. To live the life of this doll.....


V&A Exhibit website EXTENSIVE website on the exhibition from its home musuem. Even has a printable pattern from the 50's so you can design your own couture dress! Wouldja b'lieve?

1 comment:

  1. I love, love, loved this show and couldn't stop standing there slack-jawed. Like you said, there were some whackadoodle ones and some really great ones. One thing that struck me very strongly was viewing these outfits while watching people milling around them wearing old shorts, worn-out jeans and baggy t-shirts.

    We've really become a bunch of slackers! At one point, a group of elderly ladies arrived at the show and they were dressed to the nines, let me tell you! It tickled me pink.



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