All Columns in Alphabetical Order

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Peachy at The Met: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at Metropolitan Museum -- First Costume Institute Exhibition Based on Renowned Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection Exhibition dates: May 5–August 15, 2010 Exhibition location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, second floor

We previously covered the introduction of American Woman:
And spoke to Anna Wintour at the preview yesterday:
And we told you there is EVEN a chandelier:
Of the galleries, our favorite was The Flapper!  Peachy Deegan just loves The Great Gatsby and this transported her into her favorite book, however she kept looking for the green light at the end of the dock.

1920s – Gallery Five
After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the ideal of the American
woman underwent a significant transformation – from patriot and suffragist to
flapper, an archetype of femininity that redefined the concept of freedom as sexual
rather than political. Her emergence signaled the realization of a moral revolution
rooted in the late nineteenth century. As she rouged her lips, bobbed her hair,
drank bootleg gin, smoked Lucky Strikes, danced the Charleston, and necked in
the backseats of Roadsters, the flapper marked the ultimate rejection of Victorian
prohibitions against sexual expression. In appearance, she was slim, athletic, and
youthful – a standard of beauty that originated with the Gibson girl in the 1890s.
The flapper represented the apotheosis of this ideal, and like the Gibson girl she
was a distinct – and distinctive – “American type.” However, whereas the Gibson
girl’s influence on popular standards of beauty was largely restricted to America,
the flapper’s was international. She was thinner and more androgynous than her
predecessor. John Held Jr.’s famous drawings of her in Life magazine depicted her
as hipless, waistless, and flat-chested. Invariably, he portrayed her in the flapper
uniform of short-skirted chemise dress. With its low-slung waist and lack of bust
darts, its tubular, shapeless silhouette served to further abstract the contours of herbody and emphasize the angularity and verticality of her proportions. Worn by
every type of flapper conceivable – from the career flapper to the society flapper –
this dress style reflected not only the flapper’s sexual freedom but also her urbanity
and contemporaneity. Indeed, as an archetype, the flapper was as much a symbol
of sleek modernity as the skyscrapers rising around her.
Backdrop inspired by the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka
Designed by Nathan Crowley with Jamie Rama and Center Line Studios

As a whole, we loved the exhibit but were surprised it just stopped in 1930...when we hear American Woman we think of it as throughout time and would have liked to have seen it covered up to the present time, but the rest of the title states Fashioning a National Identity.  So we consulted Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: 2fashion
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): fash·ioned; fash·ion·ing\ˈfash-niŋ, ˈfa-shən-iŋ\
Date: 15th century
1 a : to give shape or form to : mold b : alter, transform c : to mold into a particular character by influencing or training d : to make or construct usually with the use of imagination and ingenuity
2 : fit, adapt
3 obsolete : contrive
— fash·ion·er \ˈfash-nər, ˈfa-shə-nər\ noun

So, it seems that those that chose these eras believed they shaped American fashion the most for women.  It is our opinion that this was when fashion began to be a business and prior to these decades, perhaps most clothes were hand-made prior to the industrial revolution. 

In November 1924 Jean Patou placed the following advertisement in the New
York Times: “A Paris couturier desires to secure three ideal types of beautiful
young American women who seriously desire careers as mannequins in our Paris
atelier. Must be smart, slender, with well-shaped feet and ankles and refined of
By the 1920s the idealized American woman was slim, athletic, and youthful.
Patou came to refer to her as the “slender American Diana,” an ideal he compared
to (and often pitted against) her continental counterpart, the “rounded French
Venus.” The French couturier was not alone in his praise of the American
woman’s graceful greyhound silhouette, which he ascribed to her vigorous outdoor
lifestyle. Colette, writing in French Vogue about Patou’s imported American
mannequins, predicted: “This squad of archangels, in a chaste flight unimpeded by
the flesh, will reorient fashion toward an increasingly slender line.”
“American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” chronicles the genesis of the
“American Diana” and her triumph over the “French Venus.” Organized in a
succession of archetypes based on mass-media representations of American women
from the 1890s to the 1940s, the exhibition examines how fashion intersected with
feminism to become a liberating force for women in America. For the American
woman, physical and fashionable appearance became a primary vehicle through
which she expressed social, political, economic, and even sexual emancipation and
emerged as a spirited symbol of progress, modernity, and, ultimately,
The exhibition celebrates the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum’s Costume
Collection to The Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute and complements

American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection on view at the Brooklyn
 1890s – Gallery One
Immortalized in the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton and in the
paintings of Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent, the heiress was one of the
first archetypes of the American woman to emerge with the rise of the popular
press in the late nineteenth century. Defined by her family’s sizeable (and often
newly acquired) fortune, she was raised in a traditional manner to become a
conventional lady. Strict rules of etiquette governed her behavior and appearance.
Like the leading grand dames of her generation, the heiress derived her modes and
manners from those associated with the European aristocracy, into which many of
her peers married, giving rise to the epithet “the dollar princesses.” For her
wardrobe, which required specialized clothing for morning, afternoon, and evening,
she relied on the foremost fashion houses in Europe. Most of her eveningwear
came from the Parisian couture houses of Rouff, Hallée, Pingat, Doucet, Paquin,
and especially Worth, whose founder, Charles Frederick Worth, had a particular
affinity for American clients. Once asked about his preference for Americans,
Worth responded, “They have faith, figures and francs – faith to believe in me,
figures that I can put into shape, francs to pay my bills.”
Backdrop inspired by the ballroom from the Astors’ Beechwood Mansion, Newport
Designed by Nathan Crowley with Jamie Rama and Center Line Studios

1890s – Gallery Two
While the heiress may have been the first mass-media archetype of the American
woman, the Gibson Girl was the first to challenge European hegemony over
accepted standards of style and beauty and emerge as a distinct – and distinctive –
“American type.” The creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, she made her
debut in an 1890 issue of Life magazine and by the mid-1890s had become a
national sensation. Typically, the Gibson Girl was depicted as tall and slender
with long limbs, classical features, and thick dark hair caught up in a chignon.
While she was also represented as young and aristocratic, her appeal transcended
age and class boundaries. Confident and commanding, she was a major exemplar
of the new woman, a symbol apposite to a period exploring new modes of
emancipation. Her clothes reflected a modern, liberated femininity – simple
tailored suits and dresses for street wear and practical shirtwaist blouses and skirts
for sportswear. It was through sports – especially golf, tennis, riding, cycling, and
swimming – that the Gibson Girl exemplified the American woman’s increasing
independence and self-determination. In the 1890s sports and exercise heralded a
new freedom for women, and the Gibson Girl embodied this newly found physical
Backdrop inspired by the illustrations of Coles Phillips, Charles Dana Gibson,
Howard Chandler Christy, Harrison Fisher, and J. C. Leyendecker
Designed by Nathan Crowley with Jamie Rama and Center Line StudiosBohemian
 1900s – Gallery Three
As an archetype, the bohemian represented the American woman’s growing
demand for greater freedom of personal expression. Like the Gibson Girl, she
liberated women to venture into the public sphere, but instead of sports she used
the arts as a means to further their development as autonomous individuals.
Generally speaking, the bohemian’s involvement in art revolved less around its
production than its consumption. But this consumption – which ranged from
collecting art to patronizing artists and from organizing exhibitions to founding
modern museums – afforded creative outlets that contributed to the articulation of
the self. The role of art in fostering self-expression extended to the bohemian’s
self-presentation. Favoring dramatic fashions that made bold statements, she
gravitated toward design houses that reflected her artistic leanings, such as Poiret,
Callot Soeurs, and Liberty & Co. These houses created garments influenced by the
languages of classicism, medievalism, and Orientalism, which were a vital part of
the visual culture of the period. Inspired by the cut of antique and regional
clothing, they promoted a looser-fitting, uncorseted silhouette. This vision of dress
reform, with its promise of an unfettered body, freed the American woman from
the sartorial conventions of her sex and paved the way for greater personal
development and individuation.
Backdrop inspired by the studio at The Tiffany House, New York
Designed by Nathan Crowley with Jamie Rama and Center Line Studios
We do love the shoes!
1910s – Gallery Four
The bohemian’s involvement in the arts, like the Gibson Girl’s participation in
sports, helped advance equality for women, a cause for which the American
woman had been actively campaigning since the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848,
where the right to vote was her most radical demand. Women’s suffrage received
its greatest impetus when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.
During the war, more than forty thousand female patriots served in relief and
military duty. Commenting on women’s wartime service, president WoodrowWilson observed, “Unless we enfranchise women, we shall have fought to
safeguard a democracy which, to that extent, we have never bothered to create.”
With the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution on August 18, 1920, female citizens were finally given the right to
vote. Over their seventy-one year struggle for voting rights, suffragists mobilized
various practices of display for political purposes, the most significant being
fashion. Through the use of specific colors, such as gold or the tricolors purple,
white, and green (and, later, purple, white, and gold), suffragists forged a visibly
shared public identity. The American woman’s adoption of these colors signified
her identification and performance as a suffragist, as did her adoption of the latest
fashions and accessories. For the suffragist, fashionable dress was a form of
feminine protest. By co-opting the practices of conventional femininity, she
demanded that women be political subjects because of – not in spite of – their
 11930s – Gallery Six
The flapper’s international approbation was in no small part attributable to her
portrayal in the movies. American film stars began to exercise an influence over
received standards of style and beauty from the 1910s, when movies initially
became popular. By the 1920s, with the rise of Hollywood, their influence had
become universal, and by the 1930s – the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood – it
had become absolute. In contrast to the film flappers of the 1920s, the screen
sirens of the 1930s promoted an ideal of beauty that was less youthful and more
sophisticated. While the film flapper was girlish and flirtatious, the screen siren
was womanly and sensuous. A figure of mature, palpable physicality, she
projected an image that was assertive, self-confident, and vigorously independent.
Her body was slim but curvaceous. Glamour was her defining attribute, reflected
most forcefully through her fashions, particularly her evening gowns. Typically
imbued with a classical aesthetic and often cut on the bias to accentuate the
natural contours of the body, these gowns reinforced her graceful sensuality.
Although they were designed for the camera – using effects and fabrics that wouldachieve the utmost impact on the screen – they echoed high fashions from the
period, especially the classically-inspired, modernist designs of Madame Grès and
Madeleine Vionnet. Using draping, twisting, and wrapping to enhance the natural
figure, their fashions were the epitome of glamour; a quality that, through the
screen siren, came to be identified as quintessentially American. Indeed, the two
models of style and beauty that have continued to characterize the American
woman to this day are the slim, athletic, youthful flapper and the sleek, sensual,
glamorous screen siren.Backdrop inspired by the interiors of various American Art Deco theaters
Designed by Nathan Crowley with Shane Valentino, Jamie Rama, and Center Line

Statement from The Gap:
As one of America’s most iconic brands, Gap is honored to sponsor The Metropolitan
Museum of Art’s Spring 2010 exhibition: American Woman: Fashioning a National
Throughout our 40-year history, Gap has been an avid supporter of the arts and our
sponsorship of this year’s Costume Institute exhibition is another testament to our
commitment in this area.
The exhibition, drawn from the newly established Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection
at the Met, will feature approximately 75 ensembles in various historical contexts to help
visitors achieve a better understanding of the roots of the modern American woman and
her internationally renowned style. Gap’s involvement will allow the public to see iconic
pieces from an important collection of historic American fashion, dating from 1890 to
1940, much of which has not been seen by the public in more than 30 years.
In the past century, American women have gone from corsets to jeans – a revolution in
style that is astounding to consider. Since 1969, Gap has provided women with the
accessible American design they need to move forward with their increasingly
multifaceted lives -- from Oscar-worthy T-shirts to affordable premium jeans and casual
office wear. Gap has been a part of her everyday wardrobe for over 40 years, and
today we continue to help her express her individual style through timeless pieces that
are reinvented to reflect what is culturally relevant at that given moment in time.
We are delighted to join the Met and Condé Nast in celebrating the past, present and
future of the modern American woman.
Marka Hansen
President, Gap Brand North America


Statement from Conde Nast:
Condé Nast is delighted to join Gap in sponsoring “American
Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art from May 5 to August 15, 2010. The exhibition
celebrates those independent, elegant, and resourceful women
who have shaped and influenced American women today,
specifically drawing on the period from 1890 to 1940, and is the
first to be sourced from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with many pieces that have
not been seen for three decades.
Drawing on themes of emancipation and liberation, the exhibition
draws on famed individuals and historical archetypes that have
been further glamorized and mythologized through popular
culture. These ideals—the Heiress, the Gibson Girl, the Bohemian,
the Suffragist, the Patriot, the Flapper, and the Screen Siren—are
displayed in historically specific tableaux created by film-set
designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight, Public Enemies).
Designers represented in the exhibition will include Gabrielle
Chanel, Mme Grès, Jeanne Lanvin, Charles James, Edward
Molyneux, Paul Poiret, and Madeleine Vionnet.
Since it began publishing in 1892, Vogue has always dedicated
itself to celebrating the women who would radically and stylishly
define America around the world in the twentieth century. They
remain as compelling now as they were then.

Back to TOP