Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fashion, craft and fiber art

Fashions may change, but exquisite craftsmanship endures

Detail, Coral-encrusted evening gown. Givenchy. c.1964.
The current exhibition, Immortal Beauty, at Drexel University in Philadelphia exceeded all expectations. For one, I had no idea Drexel had such depth in textiles and fashion. Its collection documents more than 400 years of costume history and holds more than 14,000 garments and accessories.

From Parisian couture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through to high fashion from the mid-20th century on, the collection is a serious resource for study. Suggested more than 100 years ago by the then Director of the School of Illustration Howard Pyle, a collection of fashionable dress and accessories would support study by Drexel's dressmaking and millinery students.

The exhibit is only a taste of Drexel's large collection, but it is a sweet one. 
Melanie Pascal
dinner dress, c. 1878.

Beginning with 19th century fabrics and garments (and one 16th C textile fragment), the exhibit travels in time into the early 21st century. Garments are complemented by accessories--hats, shoes, handbags and a spectacular parasol--and represent designs by leading designers of their day. The big names are there--Charles Frederick Worth, Mariano Fortuny, Givenchy, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, 'Coco' Chanel, Mary Quant, Halston--and many more.

I loved the lacework on the Melanie Pascal dinner dress. Its not likely to find such rich lace these days, but the lines suggest other textural applications in knitting or weaving.

Givenchy evening gown.

But the star of the show is an evening gown richly encrusted with coral branches and embroidery. Donated by Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, who is known to have worn the dress at least three times. The descriptive video near the end of the exhibit includes footage of her in the gown. The gown, which weighs 15 pounds, is stunning, to say the least. 

I also loved the the evening gown, c. 1926, by Callot Sours. Even on a mannequin, the dress seems likely to shimmy off its mannequin. And perhaps the original owner had a mesh purse, c.1928 like the one made by Whiting & Davis on display. (Both below) Spectacular.

Whiting & Davis mesh purse,
The exhibit is free and open through December 12. If you like and are inspired by costume and fashion, try to fit it into your schedule. 
Callot Soeurs evening gown,

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