Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Style Maven: Diana Vreeland and the Met (Part 1)

On May 6, 2013, we all know that was the night of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s ‘Party of the Year’. In celebration of this year’s exhibition opening of Punk: From Chaos to Couture (on display til August 13th), I tuned into Vogue Magazine’s live stream of the event’s red carpet, and in my fashion, the feel of the night had a very ‘20s glam’ vibe to it as I was taken aback by languid, dresses paired with daring accessories (probably very much influenced by this year’s release of The Great Gatsby, and Vogue’s May 2013 issue featuring lead female of the film, Carey Mulligan). At the gala, I loved her sleek black dress and the classic 20s heels, but as always at #IMFblog, I was most impressed by those who go against the grain! Watching the beginning of the night’s festivities unfold with an enchanting looking Hilary Rhoda wearing Wes Gordon as co-host to Vogue’s, William Norwich, the names to look for, in my fashion, were: Kimberly Chandler (6:10),   Lauren Santo Domingo (10:20), Miley Cirus (28:17 and 31:14), Sara Jessica Parker (51:12), Cameron Diaz (59:57), Kristen Stewart (1:02:24), Katy Perry (1:05:07), Alexis Welch (1:11:06), wife of Amar'e Stoudemire, Anne Hathaway (55:03), Andrew Baven (1:17:18) who arrived with Hailee Steinfeld, Jennifer Lopez (1:19:51). These were the stars of which I felt fabulous enough to have been inspired enough to add to my list of ‘Grand Style of the Night’ especially in coherence with the theme of the night, Punk. Reviewing photos of the event, I feel Kate Beckinsale never looked better, and my personal favorite of the night was, Nicole Richie. Try to catch the above celebrities' looks in the live stream below: 

If you recall from my last post, READing Your Style: Vogue Fashions (Part 2), Punk had “a social significance”, as Marc Jacobs (55:43) said when interviewed at the Gala. Andrew Bolton (46:20), curator of the exhibit said, “Punk has an integrity and authenticity that continues to engage people now,” and it is as model, Karen Elson (24:32), said it is, “ultimately what society is ultimately supposed to be.” Elson’s comment struck a chord with me because, in a sense, there is a bit a truth to that statement. Punk helped form our modern views on style for it made uniformity redundant, showing that style is about individuality, not conformity. Jonathan Van Meter looked back on Punk’s origins in Vogue’s May 2013 issue:

Mannequin wearing Guido Palau's rainbow colored headpieces, handmade
 - along with 100 other rebel-chic helmuts - for the Met Exhibition. Photos:
“Punk, like fashion, has always felt a bit like a competitive sport. No matter how outrageous or offensive or grotesque or radical you or your friends thought you were being, with your torn or splattered whatever, your shaved or spiked something or other, there was always someone more shocking, more mesmerizingly weird than you. There was always that one person who was more committed.” 

The Met Gala is the perfect example of my theme for the next two months, Fashion is Theater. The Met Gala began in 1948, and was originally conceived by Dorothy Shaver and Eleanor Lambert as a way of adding to the Costume Institute’s endowment and was primarily an industry event. Now, ‘The Party of the Year’ not only includes the fashion insiders, but celebrities make the glamour of the night that much more entertaining. An increasing number of notable athletes have even become prevalent at the Gala as well, which is another indication of how much fashion has touched all walks of life. It is a dramatic ceremony of the Institute’s grand opening of the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition; but, the drama that is associated with the Met Gala, and the Costume Institute’s mission to raise awareness of dress in human history did not become synonymous until 1973 when a certain fashion arbiter became the Institute's Special Consultant. Diana Vreeland was that catalyst for bringing life to the Institute, and to the field of costume curating as a whole. She was the embodiment of ‘Fashion as Theater’

I spent a lot of time over the past few months reading up on Diana Vreeland. I read ‘The Empress of Fashion’ by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel’ by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, and ‘Diana Vreeland’ by Eleanor Dwight. I really wanted to become very familiar with Diana Vreeland before I spent time on #IMFblog to highlight her as a Style Maven. Diana Vreeland’s work in fashion, and passion for life was inspiring to read about because her influence played a large part in the creation of the modern fashion industry. Diana Vreeland, born September 29, 1903, had a privileged childhood growing up amid the fashionable of New York’s Upper East Side, moving to Europe as a newlywed with her lifelong husband where she learned European luxuries and etiquette, developing her own striking style and reputation in fashion. When World War II forced her back to the states, she joined the staff of Harper’s Bazaar as a fashion editor under Editor-in-Chief, Carmel Snow, in 1936. After more than 25 years, in 1962, Diana Vreeland made the move to become Vogue’s next Editor-in-Chief, bringing a new energy and life not only to the magazine, but to fashion as a whole. With Vogue as her platform, Vreeland’s flair and ingénue personality led women in dressing during a time when women finally felt free to look as inventive and sexy as possible. After rearing countless models, photographers, writers, editors, and movie stars, to successful careers by highlighting the zeitgeist of the 60s in Vogue, her reign at the helm ended in 1971, and she took on the challenge of curating at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in 1972. She oversaw the creations of fifteen exhibitions (Here later shows, "Man... for the Institute until the autumn of 1989 when she passed way. Diana Vreeland’s enchanting view of the beauty of life is something that carried her through life as she grew up alongside the development of the modern fashion industry. 

André Leon Talley working with Diana Vreeland for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in 1974.
My quest on #IMFblog has been to examine where trends and social behavior originated as it pertains to fashion and style. I aim to find what fashion was, and what we are turning it into day by day going forward. Diana Vreeland having served as Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief at a time when fashion became a powerful tool of expression for women helped her to convey to America a concept of beauty that was aspirational and liberating for all women to follow. Diana Vreeland’s aura is still riddled in the excitement associated with the fashion industry, and the way that we think about fashion is a product of the mind of this visionary figure. That is why this month and next month I choose to delve into her work at the Costume Institute which is another arena of fashion where she brought her inimitable influence setting a standard that we still aim to achieve not just for fashion, but in the field of costume curating. I want to examine what we can learn from DV about style and fashion through her curatorial work. I figure, in light of this year’s exhibition opening, doing so will give us an eye into the difficulty of producing an exhibition, and Vreeland’s thoughts on how to create drama in presentation. In my fashion, one who has style has a recognizable character, and those who understand the character they play in life have the power to produce a life’s story that teaches others what it means to live a fulfilling life.

Remember, "Fashion IS theater!"
Diana would mastermind twelve exhibitions - one a year, beginning with her Balenciaga show, which opened in the winter of 1973, and ending with the 1983-1984 exhibition on the career of Yves Saint Laurent. Several later shows, "Man and the Horse," "Costumes of Royal India" and "Dance," contained her ideas, but were organized when she was not well enough to come to the museum. 

Diana and Met designer Stuart Silver in her red lacquer office. Photos: Diana Vreeland by Eleanor Dwight

The subjects of the exhibitions were rich and varied. Tom Hoving found that her ideas were so good that she only needed to mention a possible subject to him and he would quickly approve it. Her exhibition themes ranged from the careers of particular designers such as Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent in separate shows, to groups of designers like Chanel, Schiaparelli and the others covered in "The Tens, Twenties, the Thirties: Inventive Paris Clothes 1909-1939." She also staged exhibits developed around a central idea, such as "Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design" or the costumes of different countries or empires ("The Glory of Russian Costume" or "The Fashions of the Hapsburg Era - Austria-Hungary"). Different personalities were highlighted in "American Women of Style" and  "The Eighteenth-Century Women." Some exhibitions, like the Russian and Hapsburg exhibits, arrived from out-of-house pretty much complete, while others were entirely worked up by Vreeland and her staff, borrowing from many sources, both costume collections and private wardrobes. Her greatest contributions were the exhibitions like the Russian show, which showcased clothes that were not only unfamiliar, but were also breathtakingly beautiful and of great historical interest.     

Her displays, which often included as many as one hundred mannequins, would appeal to the imagination and plunge the viewer into a milieu - perhaps a celebration of a great moment in Hollywood, or her version of the eighteenth century. She wanted the clothes to appear fashionable to the contemporary viewer. As Susan Train remembers, "These shows were not history - they were fashion. They were people wearing beautiful clothes." The viewer might see a mannequin representing Grace Kelly in a movie gown, a figure of pop star Cher, or Garbo as Queen Christina. Figures wearing the garments of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great of Russia, the children of the Hapsburg court, all would appear in impressive groupings in the basement of the Met. As she had done in her magazine pages, Diana Vreeland would give the viewer something more.  - From Diana Vreeland by Eleanor Dwight  

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