Sunday, June 9, 2013

Style Maven: Diana Vreeland and the Met (Part 4)

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)

Romantic and Glamourous
Hollywood Design
Exhibition Catalog
Romantic and Glamourous Hollywood Design Exhibition (1975): Once Hoving came around to the idea, Diana went to Los Angeles and embarked on a major search, assisted by costume designer, Robert La Vine. This time, the chief difficulty she encountered was Hollywood’s lack of respect for its own past. Costumes were cut up and reused, and many studios did not keep or catalog them. The people who preserved Hollywood costumes were all too often obsessive private collectors who refused to let Diana over the doorstep, let alone borrow the clothes.

She eventually broke through. Paramount and Warner Brothers had kept their more significant items. The Family of David O. Selznick had preserved the costumes of “Gone With the Wind”. Mary Pickford had somehow managed to hold on to the costumes from all her films and allowed Diana to explore the attic of her house... Mary Pickford had not been quite so successful in hanging on to her curls, which Diana found in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, along with Mae Murray's costume from "The Merry Widow". She was stunned by the the quality of the workmanship. Carmel Snow (Ex-Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazzar) and Diana had given the designer Adrian very little support when he moved hrom Hollywood to Seventh Avenue, but Diana raved about him as a costume designer, along with Travis Banton, Wlater Plinkett, and a host of less known names. "The basis was perfect designing and incredible workmanship - the cut of décolletage, the embroidery, the mounting of a skirt, and miles and miles of bugle beads," she wrote. In Diana's view the best Hollywood costumes were as good as anything produced by the couture.

As Eleanor Lambert found out, Diana's method in putting together the Hollywood
show perfectly articulated the essence of an industry that "created a world that never was, that opened a new universe for millions....No woman ever crossed the desert in those chiffons Marlene Dietrich wore in
"The Garden of Allah - but what a way to dream of crossing the desert!"

On her travels around Hollywood Diana met a fanatical collector of movie stills. He allowed her to search through thousands of images until she found costumes she remembered from her youth that had disappeared from view. This resulted in one of the most controversial aspects of the exhibition - Diana'a audacity in commissioning replicas when she was unable to find the original, or where the piece in question was too damaged to have any impact.

Designers who helped with replicas of Hollywood costumes for the exhibition included Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Arnold Scaasi, Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, and Stan Herman. They were fully acknowledged, and every copy was faithfully spelled out in the accompanying catalog (above). But there was a feeling in the curatorial world that it was not done to mix up replicas with originals in this way; that when it came to the point of the difference was not made sufficiently clear; and that it was somehow misleading for uninformed visitors who might not bother to read the small print.

The uniformed visitors did not seem to mind one bit, as they lost themselves in a shimmering world of tinsel and marquee lights. They found Marilyn Monroe on an elephant loaned by Andy Warhol. They saw her skirt catching the breeze in "The Seven Year Itch". They encountered Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, and Gretta Garbo. They gazed at Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady" with it through galleries scented with "Femme" by Parfumes Rochas to soundtracks from "Top Hat to Dr. Zhivago". Judy Garland sang "Get Happy." "That's the best advice anyone can have ," Diana on the audio guide. Movies were the big trip of the twentieth century and put magic in our lives." They took people to worlds of which they could only dream. "It is about the dreams, the grandeur of Hollywood. It 's Travis Banton taking you across the Sahara in flowing chiffon. It's Queen Christina dressed historically, romantically, the way you'd prefer history to be. That's the idea of Hollywood. Do it Big. Do it Right. Give it Class."

Since Diana herself had a rich imaginative life, she was convinced that American moviegoers did as well. When they went into the dark theaters, they became the characters in the celluloid stories...According to Vreeland, extending fantasies and horizons beyond our wildest dreams was important to Americans, "who could not make it out of their small towns, off the back porch in Kansas."

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