American High Style by way of Brooklyn
Mannequins were as models on a runway, posed dramatically or playfully, frozen under spotlights in otherwise dimly lit exhibit rooms. Stylized design details like gold dimensional letters for titling and the mannequins’ sculpted hairstyles added just a touch of flair to the restrained presentation. In Brooklyn, the clothing was the focus.
American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection, at the Brooklyn Museum, is presented in honor of the transferred stewardship of the museum’s costume collection to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum, and as a complement to the Met’s exhibit, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.
The Met’s presentation is decidedly more theatrical, with its painted backdrops, props, wigs, and themed galleries. I haven’t yet seen it in person but I have seen photos, and I plan (to try) to catch it before it closes on August 15. Because that’s the thing to do: see both and compare them.
But back to the Brooklyn Museum. Do see American High Style, I highly recommend it. And hurry—the exhibit closes on August 1.
The layout of the exhibit was straightforward, and it was apparent that a lot of thought was put into its organization. Approximately eighty-five mannequins were arranged into six groupings: the House of Worth, French Couture 1900–1940 and 1946–1970, the designers Elsa Schiaparelli, and Charles James, American women designers, and American men designers. Additionally, there were accessories and design sketches, a wall of rare dolls dressed in the finest French fashions from 1715–1906, and a room filled with shoe prototypes and drawings by Steven Arpad (a highlight).
With all this to see, the exhibit was still succinct in its offering, and the accompanying text was interesting to read.
The mannequins stood on plywood ‘runways’ with the labels printed directly onto the plywood, translucent white screen as first layer. (I’m guessing there, as I can’t tell for certain from my photographs and my memory fails me. Second guess: applied film. Anyone?) I liked the un-embellished, though still polished, plywood but not the trough-like detail at the front of the ‘runways.’ It would have been cleaner if instead of its V shape, the runway were still angled at the front, but then went straight down, perpendicular to the floor. This was my only (minor) critique of an overall truly enjoyable exhibit.
The New Yorker High fashion and the American woman
The New York Times Art Review – American Style at the Met and the Brooklyn Museum