When fashion articulates a new paradigm for style, transfiguring the norm with an expressive potency, great fashion attains covetable status and everlasting importance.
– Marnie Fogg, author of When Fashion Really Works
The everlasting importance of the most influential American and European designers of the last one hundred years—including Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, Gilbert Adrian, and Charles James – have shaped a generation and defined cultural changes.
High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, a landmark exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, offers a rare opportunity to view the masterworks of these designers and the evolution of fashion from 1910 to 1980. The more than 100 costumes, accessories, and related fashion sketches from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcase the breadth of craftsmanship, detail, and artistry.
“The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection is a national treasure whose riches range from iconic rarities of haute couture to inventive sportswear by the first American women designers,” said Jan Glier Reeder, curator of High Style and consulting curator at The Costume Institute. “In 2009, the Brooklyn Museum and the Met formed a historic, collaborative partnership to ensure the preservation and public access to these treasures.
My experience and big takeaway in touring this world-class collection was how comprehensive it was and yet chronologically arranged thematically – prewar Europe, Elsa Schiaparelli, postwar Europe, American female designers, American male designers, Charles James and accessories.
I was particularly engaged with Charles James’, British-born designer known as “America’s First Couturier” , prototype muslin ensembles and interactive videos demonstrating his technical mastery of engineering and constructing gowns. As you can see from these images, he truly was a master of cutting with an architectural aesthetic.
Although Europe has historically been known for fashion, American made its contribution from high style, made-to-order clothing, to post war American Sportswear aesthetic that became one of the country’s most important contributions to twentieth-century fashion.
The awareness and acknowledgement of the historical perspective of fashion provides context and understanding of where we are today. Modern fashion continues to move forward but is re-interpreted for today’s culture and relevance. Many successful independent designers and retailers are influenced or inspired by what came before, yet their passion, innovation, and purpose will help define today’s cultural significance in fashion.