Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Out of the crate: Fashioning Fashion at LACMA

Timeline Installation photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
There are only a matter of weeks left to see The Fashioning Fashion exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This extraordinary display of garments and accessories spanning 1700 to 1915 is unparalleled in its importance to fashion history due to its breath, its quality and the excellent condition of the pieces. Included in the nearly 160 examples of fashionable dress, undergarments and accessories are a number of extremely rare pieces. And while the exhibition catalogue Fashioning Fashion illustrates each and every garment in the collection in lavish photographs, there is really nothing like being there to fully appreciate the workmanship in these garments and accessories.

Timeline Installation Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
This collection was purchased in its entirety from two dealers who had each separately amassed collections of historic textiles and dress for more than 25 years. They wanted their combined collection go to a single museum. Director Michael Govan said "After seeing these rare objects, it was clear that we should bring the collection to Los Angeles, as my first major collecting initiatives after arriving at LACMA. This acquisition has catapulted the museum's holdings of European costume to the highest category of quality."

Lady's chemise, panier and corset 1750-1780 LACMA
Photo by Ingrid Mida
The heavy gray box-like structures displaying the garments initially seemed to detract from the delicate beauty of the garments on exhibit. But then I recognized the allusion to the garments emerging from shipping crates. The "crates" are painted gray like the neutral backdrops that costumes are typically photographed against in a museum. Raised up on platforms, the crates elevate the displays to allow easy viewing by all. And on occasion, their layout allows a playful peak at what is yet to come. Close to the ceiling of the gallery, the red lettering of the FashioningFashion labels add a punch of colour to the cavernous space and seem to reference the red steel beams of the building directly across from the Resnick Pavilion. In the end, I concluded that the contrast of the modern installation with the historic fashion pieces was a very clever thing to do and oh so LA.

Tailoring installation, LACMA photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
The white mannequins and paper wigs create neutral forms which focus the viewer's attention on the clothes and not the carrier, although some of the garments are suspended by wires with invisible mannequin forms (another allusion to modernity perhaps?)

Men's Waistcoats 18th century France, LACMA Installation photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
Normally it is easy for me to pick out a favourite garment from an exhibition but this time I fell in love with all of it. The extraordinary workmanship and beauty of the garments on display make it impossible to choose just one. So rare is it that a museum puts its entire collection on display that this is a once in a lifetime event.  I hope it stays burned into my memory.

Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915
Closes March 27, 2011
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wiltshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA, 90036