Monday, June 3, 2013

Style Maven: Diana Vreeland and the Met (Part 2)

Diana Vreeland
As I said in Part 1 of this Style Maven series featuring Diana Vreeland, 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. (Photos and text come from the following books: ‘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) 

The World of Balenciaga
Exhibition Catalogue
The World of Balenciaga Exhibition (1973): Spanish couturier, Balenciaga, had died on March 23, 1972…After her split from Vogue, curating exhibitions was a great change from Vogue, where Diana had only to pick up the phone to get what she wanted…it had started to look as if she failed her very first test for there was no one on hand to advise her and she had to feel her way…What proved unexpectedly hard, however, was the task that should have been the easiest: persuading friends in Europe who owned Balenciagas to loan them to the Metropolitan Museum…It soon turned out that locating the right sort of Balenciaga from the important moments in his career was only half the battle with Diana only having 6 months till the exhibition opening since having secured her position…As she went through that process for the first time, Diana discovered an enormous amount of unexpected and invisible work, not to mention an aptitude for hustling. She had to talk many people into providing everything for nothing. She and her secretary handled a multitude of details, from clearing permissions, checking the spelling of names, keeping in touch with every donor to the exhibition in the United States and Europe, acknowledging the clothes as they arrived, and finding the right accessories for every outfit not to mention editing, mounting, and grouping the displays.

"After Diana's death in 1989, the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello, claimed that "until the spring of 1973, it could be said that the field of costume had been a sleepy and rarefied one...An aura of antiquarianism seemed to enshroud every costume display, and they had, for all intents and purposes, no audience beyond a few specialists." Then Diana Vreeland appeared at the Costume Institute and an entire field was transformed, with "an uncanny sense for drama and style."
Diana often saw what people thought of as street fashion for the first time in Balenciaga…In the center of the Balenciaga show was "the armour of Charles I on a huge white horse - flamenco music plays faintly and one hears heels and castanets clicking." The designer's perfume enveloped the galleries, which were painted in the master's favorite colors - acid green, magenta and Spanish yellow...To make the exhibit arresting enough to Diana’s standards, Diana hated the Costume Institute's mannequins, maintaining that they were too lifelike, gave her the creeps, and make the museum's costume exhibitions look like a display in Saks. She battled to use mannequins made by the Swiss manufacturer Schlappi, which were taller than the average person, were produced in different finished, and had an abstract quality about them that Diana greatly preferred. Furthermore, she insisted they be as close to the visitors as possible, and behind glass, and should be grouped together above head height for maximum drama. 

The Balenciaga exhibition attracted more than 150,000 visitors and showed just how capable she was; and she had also made a case that benefited them all, for the courtier as artist…In this same year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) became a benefactor of the Costume Institute, and the ‘Party of the Year’ changed with the focus of its attendees turning towards circles where fashion and high society intersected…This was a most welcome development, not just because the ‘Party of the Year’ brought glamour, and social distinction, but because the strategy was such a success that revenue from par

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