Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Day At Two Museums In High Style

For my sister's birthday treat, I drove her out to San Francisco to see the High Style exhibit at the Legion of Honor. The complete exhibit was beautiful but surprisingly small for a $30 ticket. But you know me...size does not always matter. I don't plan on spoiling the exhibit here by showing you all the pictures. I will however highlight a couple of things and encourage all in the SF Bay Area to get out there and support our museums. There's still a couple of weeks left. Besides, the Legion of Honor is located in one of the most picturesque spots in San Francisco. Seriously.

My brother-in-law is taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. He is the speck next to the statue.
I am taking a picture of my brother-in-law taking a picture of my sister. :-)
Not all the displayed pieces had a 360-degree view, leaving me feeling very incomplete. As my sister sketched her favorites, I was tripping over the platforms trying to view the backs of dresses. The highlight of course were the Charles James gowns, but it were the 3D videos that stole the show for me. Attendees crowded around (myself included) for many minutes to view the genius construction of a Charles James' gown. Here is the heavy silk satin ball gown video sample, and the actual gown below.

This image was photo bombed by ghosts.

I think the unrealistic view of the perfect body really came from gowns like this.
But it's hard to complain with such beauty and genius construction.
Despite the elaborate gowns, many of which I will never sew, I did find real inspiration in two pieces...both of which I aspire to make one day. The first is this pretty number by the late American Designer Geoffrey Beene. Made in a plain weaved purple and white silk, it is the epitome of everything I consider fun and flirty. is a smock-esque dress. But look at the cool scalloped contrasting hem. I think it's totally doable no? YESSS!

Because of this dress, I was inspired to purchase a red silk flower this week at Joanns.
I wish I were able to see the back of the dress.
Geoffrey Beene passed away in 2004, which means he was still in his prime when I was growing into my future kitten-heeled pumps. He is one designer that I still remember drooling over as a fashion-crazed teenager. Another favorite design detail of mine (and Geoffrey Beene) is the empire waist. Here is a vintage Geoffrey Beene I found for sale online that caught my eye...and honestly, if I get some energy, I might make a copy.  The gown was sewn with juxtapositioned fabrics: wool jersey for the bodice, and silk satin for the skirt, collar, and cuff. Geoffrey Beene, known for comfortable and stylish wear, took his reputation further by designing gowns using sweatshirt material. Wow right?

This dress (and others) are available for purchase for $950 HERE. Not a terrible price for a vintage original.

If you want to learn more about Geoffrey Beene, HERE is a link to Wikipedia.

Another inspirational dress, and an equal favorite was the creator of the "bias cut," French designer Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1985).  Made in 1935, this gown was considered modern dressmaking. Cut on the bias, and sewn in a striking mix of magenta and fuchsia crepe silk, the gown could adorn almost every body type. It's hard to believe that this is what our grandmothers wore. This 80-year-old design can be found on every runway in every season...a sign of a true "classic."

Succulent colors, still vibrant for an 80-year-old. 
Madeleine Vionnet survived both World Wars, and lived to the ripe age of 99.  She helped transition women out of the corset, and changed the shape of the female silhouette forever. Her then innovative construction techniques are now a part of the fashion industry standards. She was known for draping her fabrics directly on an 80-centimeter mannequin...most likely the same way we drape fabric in pattern design today.

Vionnet had two fashion houses, both of which closed at the end of each World War. The first survived two years (1912-1914). The second opened in the early 1920s, and received much notoriety and success for almost two decades until she retired in 1939 at the age of 69 years old. She lived another 30 years, and maybe her longevity helped keep her legacy alive long enough for her work to be preserved. True to her aesthetics to the very end, Vionnet was more than a couturier. In my opinion, she was an artist and a feminist. Perhaps these traits kept her at odds with the ever-growing commercialization of fashion.

At her death in 1975, she left behind what few could match, but with less notoriety in form of label or branding that benefitted many lesser designers. I am sure she would not have had it any other way. Were it not for curators like Betty Kirke, and the influence of younger designers, Vionnet and her work might have fallen into complete obscurity.

You can learn more about Madeleine Vionnet in a book written by Betty Kirke, and published by Chronicle Books. This is the third edition and available on Amazon for about $100. (Expect a review of the book here shortly.) Betty Kirke is currently working on another revised edition which will include a DVD with sewing instructions and actual patterns. I cannot wait! Kirke is a retired fashion designer, and former conservator at The Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Kirke was given access to Vionnet's collection before she died, which provided her with firsthand construction knowledge and insight about the designer. More on Kirke HERE.

The Vionnet brand was resurrected and taken over in 2012 by Ms. Goga Ashkenazi. It is unclear to me if she is the main designer as well. The current Vionnet brand also designs handbags as well as women's wear, and from the Fall/Winter 2015 Paris video on their website, I saw a few pieces "hint" of Vionnet, but does not evoke her true spirit. It is after all another investor acquired label using the good name of Vionnet. The same goes for Geoffrey Beene labels that still exist today.

If you did not know already, all Legion of Honor Museum tickets will also get you into the de Young Museum on the same day. We made it to Golden Gate Park with a few hours before closing, and found time to enjoy a quick lunch at the museum cafe.

"Although it's really your birthday, I feel like it's mine too!"

This is what I said to my sister while chowing down on Shepherd's pie at the de Young Museum Cafe. Besides having loads of fun at the exhibits...I also love eating at the museum. It's just one of those kooky things I find incredibly enjoyable. My particular favorite has been the Terrace 5 at MOMA in New York City, and Stanford's Cool Cafe. But I have appreciated them ALL in one form or another. If you do make it over to the de Young, look for the organic soft-serve ice cream truck sitting just outside the park. I got mine dipped in chocolate with a sprinkle of sea salt. (Sorry! I forgot an ice cream photo.)

After a satisfying lunch...there was much to browse at the de Young...even for textile lovers like me.
Here are some inspirational pieces to inspire a second museum visit in one day.

This was a wonderful inspiration for my future shrine.
But I also saw a beautiful princess adorned by a gold headpiece. 
Close-up of the above piece.
A Japanese rattan art piece. I actually see it as a hat...the obvious,
but also, the sleeves of a beautiful dress or movement in a flowy skirt.
I think this is artfully hung wood bark...but I am not certain. Sadly, I forgot to photograph the description.
It reminded me of fringe or the beads of a flapper dress.
A enormous art piece made entirely out of aluminum strips off of twist caps.
This piece was utterly breathtaking at a distance. I saw a beautiful sheath dress or an emperor's cape.
And this just says it all for me when it comes to art, textiles, and fashion... Happy sewing!