I do not deal in trends. I deal in emotions. It’s about the emotion fashion gives you.
– André Leon Talley, former American editor-at-large for Vogue magazine, curator Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective
The glamorous flow and flair of Oscar de la Renta. This de Young Museum, Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective, exhibition generated a lot of enthusiasm and commentary from the crowd, a vocabulary of emotion and high volume chatter!
The exhibition was the talk-of-town the minute I stepped foot into San Francisco. My host and a friend I met up made sure I listed it on top of my to-do list.
There was a time marked on my ticket indicating when I should enter the special exhibit. Since it was a weekday, I did not need to line up on their half-an-hour standby station. Walking down the stairs from the reception, I could immediately hear the crowd. How crowded it must be during the weekends! The mannequins were placed higher on platforms at both sides of the hall, forming a center pathway for visitors to stroll through the different sections. The art pieces were categorized according to year or theme.
At first glance, I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd I am standing amongst. Seems like the fashion pieces are more accessible for the visitors to comment on or share their favorites or least favorites with their friends, like a window shopping adventure: “I can see myself wearing this” “ I love the colors!” “ I wouldn’t wear this”. If only people are equally verbal about the permanent visual art collections upstairs, then I wouldn’t have felt so lonely seeing those works on my own.
Then again, these are not just clothes from our everyday life, it is high end couture made by a master designer who has lived his life amongst other fashion moguls like Elizabeth Arden and Pierre Balmain. As a visual artist, the questions that came to me when I looked at the pieces were almost the same as the questions I ask myself when I look at a painting or a sculpture:
“What is the historical context of which the piece was made?”
“How does the artist play with textures and layers?”
“Which culture shares these color combinations and aesthetics?”
“What is the political climate during that time to allow certain aspects of the design to shine through?”
“What was the standard of beauty that was embraced during the time? and who are his preferred models?”
Different sections adopt different strategies to enhance our viewing experience: footage of historical runway shows or fashion shoots that accompanies the identical fashion set installed helped contextualized the beautiful dresses into a specific place and time therefore their relevance in de la Renta’s repertoire; paintings recreated as soft sheer backdrops in the red room act as a corridor into a forbidden palace of the Far East (Chinese, Ottoman and Russian Empires).
One couldn’t help but being lured into the world and exclusive circles of glamor, celebrity socialites and elites who get to wear an Oscar de la Renta. I overheard a museum staff bragging about how quickly the museum was able to identify, contact to borrow the dresses in this exhibition from the respective owners. To me, this very much validates how closely ( what kind of PR tasks) museums have to work with collectors, donors and heirs in order to organize and showcase the treasures and artworks in the museum for a limited period.
I walked away savoring the clean cut, lines, elegant laces, tasteful pastel silks, and shinny rocks that are only available to my eyes up close in this setting.
– Si Jie Loo, E D G E contributing writer.
EDGExposition for more fashion exhibitions.
All photos by Si Jie Loo.