I was really thrilled to be able to attend the R. L. Shep Triennial Symposium on Textiles and Dress yesterday at LACMA. This day long symposium focused on the spectacular exhibition “Fashioning Fashion- European Dress in Detail 1700-1915” which is on display until May 27, 2011. The symposium was sold out for weeks so I was very fortunate in being able to obtain a ticket- and to find several of my historical costuming friend locally were going so we could ride together! The day filled my head with absolutely fascinating things to think about. There were lectures by Akiko Fukai (Chief Curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute and author of the fabulous Fashion book- if you don’t own it you seriously need a copy), Pamela Golbin (Chief Curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile, Paris), Nicole LaBouff (who spoke on the history of women’s gender rolls and riding dress), Clarissa Esguerra (who spoke on innovations of tailoring techniques), and Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell (who provided brilliant examples through photographs of clothing in collections and period illustrations of French Revolutionary costume and their symbolism- with special attention to this amazing vest on display at the exhibition). The day also included talks with world renowned dealers Martin Kamer and Wolfgang Ruf, who told fascinating stories of the quest for amazing historic fashions and placing them with museums.
As someone who has often complained of the lack of fashion and costume exhibits on the West Coast, I am honored and thrilled to be able to see this exhibit and to have been able to have attended this brilliant symposium. There are very often very important clothing exhibitions in New York, Paris, and London (among other cities), but I have never witnessed on the West Coast such an impressive and comprehensive display of the evolution of fashion- with such important examples of pieces that completely characterize the important of fashion within their period- as in the display at LACMA. Although I had heard that LACMA had a quite impressive collection of fashion items their exhibitions were few and far between as compared with other large cities such as New York, Paris, and London. I feel this exhibition is on par in quality and pieces shown as I have seen in my travels elsewhere in the quest of historic costume exhibitions.
My one qualm with the exhibition is the unfortunate choice in the method of display. While the pieces themselves are very well displayed on mannequins with completely perfect hair, figure, accessories, and footwear- the mannequins appear to be exiting from rather large drab gray packing crates. Although I understand the symbolism of the concept of design I cannot help but feel these dark boxes and strange angles take away from the beauty of the clothing on display and sometimes cast rather strange shadows on the clothing. It is difficult to see the clothing from a variety of angles (sometimes impossible) and only a few mirrors are implemented to help show the back or front of selected costumes- but these are quite warped and distort the perspective. Despite my complaint as to the background, the collection itself is absolutely superb and I am especially impressed with the impressive display of men’s costume- which is quite rare to see- and they have filled in any possible gap in the evolution of menswear by providing exquisite and very rare examples of surviving pieces from all decades showcased in this collection.
If you are a book fiend (as I am), pick up the book. I purchased the book Fashioning Fashion from Amazon and am thrilled with it. In fact, the clothing is much better displayed and lighted in the book than it is in the display- and after you receive your book you may find yourself wanting to pay another visit to the exhibit to see the little details you missed the first time around. Since we’ve got a little bit of time until the exhibition closes it’s well worth it to visit it a second (or third, or fourth) time.
Unfortunately I forgot my camera- so you’ll just have to take my word for how wonderful it was. At least check out the website for examples of clothing on display. They even have free pattern downloads inspired by some menswear from the display.