When Life Gets Ugly, Focus on the Pretty

Jesus, this month. How much heartbreak can we take?

To lighten the mood a bit, last week I met my friend Angela in New York and spent a delightful day with her. We walked from Battery Park to Chinatown, where we feasted at Nom Wah (Thanks to Rosie for sending us there. Best. Dim Sum. Ever!), then we caught the train uptown to see the “Manus Ex Machina” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So here are some pictures to remind us that when the world gets ugly, and God knows it’s been one ugly-ass summer so far, there is still beauty all around us.

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Neoprene couture wedding gown by Chanel opens the exhibit
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But what’s with the drag lines?
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McQueen metal dresses
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Can’t sit in this one
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Hussein Chalayan
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Dior!
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Crappy cell phone detail of the embroidery on the Dior dress
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Dior’s Petale
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McQueen
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Dior by Yves Saint Laurent
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This is made of plastic drinking straws
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Clear sequins over printed ombré silk jersey
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Halston
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Dior side by side with McQueen
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70s Givenchy, IIRC
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Iris van Herpen is one crazy lady!
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For those days you just want to look like a wooly bear caterpillar
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Valentino and Gres on the left, Iris van Herpen on the right
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Mummy couture
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Classic Chanel? Kinda sorta. That “tweed” is plastic
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Here you can see the “weave” of the Chanel tweed
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Cool idea for a shirt dress from Prada: zipper instead of button placket
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Only a sewing nerd would stick her camera under the dress to see the innards
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Hand crocheted lace
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Chanel fron the 30s

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The exhibit has been extended into September. If you have the chance, do go see it.

Happy sewing!

Charles James at the Met

This is a long one, and picture heavy, so grab a cup or glass, sit back, and enjoy. 🙂

The iconic image of Charles James gowns photographed by Cecil Beaton

I was in New York for a series of meetings this week. Yesterday morning, I got a call about an hour before one of my scheduled meetings that the vendor was sick and couldn’t make it. That gave me a couple of hours to kill. Let’s see, I’m in New York, I have nowhere to be until noon. What to do? It took me all of about a nanosecond to hail a cab and head up to the Met, where “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” is on display. I had less than 2 hours, so I booked it right for the exhibit.

The exhibit is outstanding for the most part. It’s split into two areas. The first area houses the iconic James gowns: Tree, Butterfly, Four Leaf Clover, Swan and many others. These gowns are heavy. They weigh between 12 and 20 lbs. Vogue has a fun article about the comparative weights of several iconic James Gowns. For example, Tree:

Named after Marietta Tree, Mother of the model Penelope Tree
Named after Marietta Tree, Mother of the model Penelope Tree

Weighs 13 lbs, or as Vogue likes to say, about the same as an average sized watermelon. The Butterfly dress, which I am kicking myself for not getting a picture, weighs the same as 5 baby French Bulldogs. Speaking of which, Puppy Dress!!!!

I have never claimed to be anywhere near Charles James' abilities, but I do like French Bulldogs
I have never claimed to be anywhere near Charles James’ abilities, but I do like French Bulldogs
Swan
Swan, with like, a bajillion yards of tulle

Rather than blah blah blah you to death, let me just share the pictures I took. They allowed pictures, as long as you didn’t use flash. I only had my phone with me, so pardon the low quality.

Swan Back
As close as I could get to the Swan from the back. These dresses stood a solid inch away from the body
Back of the Tree
Back of the Tree
Green ballgown, whose name I didn't note
Green ballgown, whose name I didn’t note
Green ballgown with photoshopping to try to see it better
Green ballgown with photoshopping to try to see it better
Evening Dress 2
Evening Dress with velvet bodice and silk satin and faille skirt (color enhanced for contrast)
I cribbed this picture from the Chicago Museum site
I cribbed this picture from the Chicago Museum site

Something cool that the exhibit did was they had videos, camera shots and ‘x-rays’ of the innards of the dresses. They used robotic arms to highlight the areas they were describing on monitors, and they even (and this was totally cool) had one camera that delved under a dress to show the multicolored layers of tulle that made up the underskirt.

The silk and velvet Four Leaf Clover was there, as was this absolutely spectacular lace and silk version

Lacy Clover 1
The best video was the one showing how the lace was appliquéd to this gown.

Lacy Clover Back Lacy Clover 2
Here are some more pictures with some detail shots
Pouf Gown

Seaming and Hem on a Pouf Gown

This bridal dress was designed by Charles for a Modess sanitary napkins print ad. My, how times have changed…

Modess Bridal Gown Back Modess Bridal Gown
This dress was designed for the opening of a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, and is meant to reference the female genitalia. Can I just say? I am no prude but I don’t need any literal references to the vajayjay running down the front of my dress.

Couture Ew
Couture Ew

There’s a reason that look never caught on, Chuck, trust me.

After the Iconic Gowns, the exhibit continues.
Temple of Dendur

On the other side of the museum, behind the Temple of Dendur (which is so cool, BTW) and down in the basement!
Seriously, the gowns are front and center, and the rest of his work is consigned to the cellar. The curators were trying to say something here. Maybe the curators were inadvertently imagining the wearers of his other outfits to be traveling by subway? Who knows. But in the (basement) Anna Wintour Costume Institute, the works displayed were in many cases, remarkably pedestrian. Coats, day and evening dresses, worn by the socialites of the day, and no doubt worn beautifully, but they were not iconic. They are not notable. They are not even memorable.

Evening Dress
Draped evening dress
Dinner Dresses
Dinner Dresses
Day Dresses
Okay, these day dresses were spectacular.
Coats
But this coat? Not so much

As I said to Phyllis, ‘These reminded me of Ethel Mertz and Mamie Eisenhower.’ I said earlier that the show was outstanding for the most part. The part that was outstanding was on the first floor, not in the basement. The coats, dresses and outfits – even the gowns, are of their time. They are a wonderful diorama of postwar chic. James is considered visionary, but his vision doesn’t translate across time. They are costumes that were worn by our grandmothers. Beautiful costumes, but costumes nonetheless.

While this may be more of an historical reference, the show is really worth seeing. If you can get to New York to see this exhibit, by all means do! It’s a great snapshot of American fashion history.

Happy sewing!

Extended, by Popular Demand, and a Big Fabric Sale!

The exhibit to die for, Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels at the Cooper Hewitt Museum has been extended until July 4th. Really, if you can, you have got to see this exhibit. It is breathtaking.

And apropos of nothing, I put up a huge Memorial Day sale at Gorgeous Fabrics! Almost everything* is on sale for 20% off. So get over there and grab some great bargains! Sale runs through May 29th, 2011.

(*What’s not included? Swatches, muslin, notions, gift certificates and fabrics that came in and are put up on the site after the sale began. Other than that, it’s all good.)

Happy shopping and sewing!

Museum Review – High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture

Red Silk Crepe and Organza Gown - Gianfranco Ferré for Dior

Photo Credit: Brian Sanderson, FIDM Photography

I took some time recently to see the “High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture” exhibit at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA.

Can I just tell you? Beyond fabulous.

I remember seeing pictures of Betsy Bloomingdale in Vogue and Bazaar. My mother always exclaimed over her taste. It was a real treat to see the dresses and gowns they had on display at the museum. It brought me right back to my childhood and youth. The exhibit runs through January 2, 2011.

The American Textile History Museum is a bit of a conundrum.

It’s a lovely little boite of a museum, but it almost seems neglected. Lowell, MA, was at one time a center of the textile industry in the US. But now there are no textile mills within many miles. The industry abandoned New England for the South many long years ago. And now, of course, it has abandoned the South for far flung lands. It’s a stark reminder of what once was, and probably will never be again.

That said, it’s a fun little museum, and this exhibit, which is a traveling road show of the exhibit put forth by the museum at FIDM in Los Angeles, is a must see! You start out in the upper foyer, where there are croquis and a video, along with an amazing silk/linen gown by Dior (Bohan). The gown has handpainted flowers from the bodice down to the hem. As you get closer to the bottom, there are amazing handpainted organza blossoms attached. It’s simply astounding.

Next to the foyer is a room with several gowns that Bloomingdale wore at various occasions, including Reagan-era dinners, Met galas, and Parisian soirees. They were all just gorgeous, and you can get up close and personal to them. I was alone in the galleries and I was able to get within inches of the gowns to look at the stitching. There is another room on the lower floor, which houses gowns, dresses and pantsuits by Galanos, Dior, Givenchy, Halston and several others. It’s a peek inside a rarefied world.

For me, the most interesting piece was a black velvet and gold silk gown by Dior. This one was turned inside out, so you can see the inner construction of the corselette. The hand-stitched finish of the seam allowances was so fine it was breathtaking.

Wow, I’m using an awful lot of superlatives, non? Well, if you’re going to look at couture, you might as well pull out all the superlatives that Sr. Jacqueline taught you in 10th grade.

Seriously though, this is a must-see, if you have any interest in couture. It is at Lowell for the remainder of 2010. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here are a couple of pictures of desses and gowns from the exhibit, to tempt you to go…

Do see it if it comes to a museum near you.

Happy sewing!

You Have GOT to Check This Site Out!

I read three newspapers per day now. I added Women’s Wear Daily to my roster. And given the depressing headlines stalking the other two, I’m glad I did. Though I must admit, lately the gloom has spread to the front page of WWD.

But you know what? This post isn’t about that. This post is about fabulousness in its purest form, available for free online. To whit, WWD had an article on Tuesday about the latest offering from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They are placing their entire catalogue online! And my favorite part?

The Costume Institute

Oh. My. God. How happy am I?? Want to see a Chanel Suit? Here you go!

Or a stomacher from the 18th century? Have at it.

Or how about Alexander McQueen’s Oyster Dress? Look all you want.

Yes, I’m in heaven. I have a new fave rave site. Check it out, get inspired and have fun!

Happy sewing!
All photos: The Costume Institute

Organic Balloons

I promised you pictures of the Performance Art Balloons at the MAD opening, so here you go. Talk about taking the balloon doggie to a new level. First we have the “Anemone”:

Then there was the “Boy Balloon”

And of course, the complementing “Girl Balloon”

Tell me those aren’t, um, evocative

Happy sewing!