Wednesday, November 30, 2016

MASTERWORKS: Unpacking Fashion at The Metropolitan's Costume Institute: Review by Polly Guerin

Ball Gown, Viktor & Rolf spring/summer 2010
Why does fashion matter? Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Anna Wintour Costume Center at The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it all, "Our mission is to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art. Over the seven decades since The Costume Institute became part of The Met in 1946, our collecting strategy has shifted from creating a collection of Western high fashion that is encyclopedic in breadth to one focused on acquiring a body of masterworks."
    The Costume Institute's fall 2016 exhibition, MASTERWORKS: Unpacking Fashion features significant acquisitions of the past 10 years and explores how the department has honed its collecting strategy to amass masterworks of the highest aesthetic and technical quality, including iconic works by designer who have changed the course of fashion history and advanced fashion as an art form  The exhibition runs through February 5, 2017. Image: Self-proclaimed "fashion artists" Viktor & Rolf celebrates their distinct brand with this blue polyester tulle and black silk-synthetic moire embroidered with white plastic sequins from their "Credit Crunch Couture" collection. The striking sculptural form subverts the tradition of a feminine 1950's-style dress bisecting densely stitched clouds of tulle with a flourish intended to evoke the swipe of a chainsaw.
Maison Margiela ensemble with Red Coat 1787-92  
 Some newly acquired objects are paired with pieces already in the collection to illustrate the enduring influence of certain master couturiers and iconic historical silhouettes.  In this Maison Margiela ensemble,  (left) John Galliano reinterprets the eccentric dress of dandified young men in post-revolutionary France. The historical influence is evident in the high collar, oversized lapels, and exaggerated coattails, which have been transformed into trailing lengths of silk chiffon. (right) The red wool broadcloth coat from France (1787-92) was worn by raffish young men known as the Incroyables (Incredibles), whose tightly fitted fashions took on extreme proportions. The high, turned-down collar, narrow sleeves, and sharply curved coat fronts create the impression of an elongated figure.

Heidi Slimane spring/summer 2014

     A selection of Charles James structured ball gowns draws attention as do numerous examples of creations by contemporary designers including Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen and Comme des Garcons.
     Yves Saint Laurent's scandalous 1971 "Liberation" collection featured signature elements of 1940's fashion. (right)The dress at center with a print of bright red lips against a black background belongs to the ready-to-wear interpretation of the collection. (left) In 2014 Yves Saint Laurent creative director Heidi Slimane revived the iconic motif in a white silk crepe blouse, embroidered with lip motifs in white iridescent and red plastic sequins and black glass beads, trousers black wool gabardine.
      The exhibition is a fascinating  If the holidays prove too hectic for you, take this option. The exhibition is featured om the Museum's website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #FashionMasterworks.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Fan mail is always welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click in the left hand column to Blogs on visionary men, women determined to succeed, poetry from the heart.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Proust's Muse: THE COUNTESS GREFFULHE: Review by Polly Guerin

Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe
With Celebrity recognition The Museum at FIT's exhibition, introduces Proust's Muse, Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952). A famous beauty, she was known for her "aristocratic and artistic elegance, a fashion icon comparable to Daphne Guinness today. 
    The exhibit showcases some 40 garments and accessories once owned by the celebrated beauty, fashion icon, and patron of both arts and sciences.The Countess Greffulhe patronized the greatest couturiers of her day, Worth, the founder of the French Haute Couture, principal among them, known for the use of exquisite, and lush textiles.
    "The Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion, " says Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. "And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant."
House of Worth Lily Dress, Photo by Paul Nadar
THE PROUST CONNECTION When Proust wrote his novel In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu), the Countess Greffulhe inspired his immortal character Oriane, The Dutchesse de Guermantes, of whom he wrote, "Each of her dresses seemed like the projection of a particular aspect of her soul." The Countess Greffulhe, like her counterpart. the novel's Duchesse de Guermantes, represented for Proust, the aristocrat as a work of art. "But elements of her style," noted Valerie Steele, "also influenced characters as diverse as the courtesan Odette de Crecy (later Madame Swann) and the Narrator's bourgeois lover, Albertine." Image right: "Lily Dress," 1896, attributed to Worth, black velvet application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins. But the Countess clearly contributed to  ideas about its design and decoration. 
The motif of the lilies refers to a poem in her honor by the dandy-poet Robert de Montesquiou, who served as the main inspiration for another of Proust's characters, the Baron de Charlus. In her correspondence with Montesquiou, Elisabeth Greffulhe confessed, "I don't think there is any pleasure in the world comparable to that of a woman who feels she is being looked at by everybody, and has joy and energy transmitted to her."                                                                                             THE COUNTESS'S AUDACIOUS STYLE
Robe de Ceremonie, Byzantine Empress Gown  
Another highlight of the exhibition is an exotic emerald green and blue "robe d'interieur"(1897) which epitomizes the countess's audacious style. She loved to wear green, which complemented her auburn hair.
    Image Left: One of the countess's most famous gowns was a sensational gold lame Byzantine empress gown, pearl-encrusted, fur-trimmed robe de ceremonie, that she wore to her daughter Elaine's wedding in 1904. It said that people in the crowd exclaimed, "My God, is that the mother of the Bride>" Although labeled Worth, it was probably created for the countess by the young Paul Poiret. 
SPONSOR OF THE BALLETS RUSSES. A pioneering fund-raiser, the countess was a major supporter of the Ballets Russes, and in the years prior to the First World War her fashions also gravitated toward avant-garde Orientalist styles. When Proust describes the exotic Fortuny gowns of his fictional Dutchesse de Guermantes, evoking "that Venice loaded with the gorgeous East," he was clearly inspired by the Countess Greffulhe.  Crafting her image like a work of art, she cultivated an elegant signature style that highlighted her svelte, wasp-waisted figure. Besides Charles Worth, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci are among couturiers represented. There is also an ensemble inspired by the Countess Greffulhe created by contemporary fashion designer Rick Owens. In addition to the 28 garments on display are dozens of accessories, and a selection of photographs. Through Jan. 7, 2017, at The Museum at FIT, (FREE Admission) 27th street and Seventh For information about the Proust Muse Fashion Symposium on Thursday, September 20th contact the museum.
   Ta Ta Darlings!! The exhibit is too, too marvelous, I am green with envy, but alas I do not have a wasp-waist. Polly welcomes fan mail  Visit Polly's other Blogs at and click on the links in the left-hand column.