"Fetching is Your Dior" by Chris von Wangenheim
Christian Dior advertisement 1976
Christian Dior advertisement 1976
But the photos were just part of the story. The other part of the story was the clothing. The exhibit was divided into rooms which each housed a decade, and therefore represented a "look". It started with post-war Paris, since really the mid-to-late 40s were when the idea of the supermodel was born. In that room there were poised, haughty looking mannequins with arched brows and red pouts dressed in clothes from the golden age of haute couture like Balenciaga's "shawl" coat and sack dress, and evening gowns by Charles James. The next room focused on the 60s youthquake, the mod era of Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Rudi Gernreich and early Saint Laurent. The centerpiece of this room was three aluminum dresses worn in the movie "Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?" rotating on a platform under psychedelic lighting. Then came the 70s, which was pretty much glossed over with one small display showing what was supposed to be a V.I.P room at a club, but struck me as looking more like a painfully hip Williamsburg loft space than Studio 54. Lounging on a couch were one group of mannequins in gilded peasant blouses and ball skirts from Saint Laurent's Ballet Russes collection, and another group in slinky Halston jersey. Like I said, the 70s disco era was completely glossed over in terms of clothing. Then of course came the 80s and the supermodel era, which you'd think would be treated as some sort of holy grail kind of experience given that everyone (not including me, however) worships the supermodels. Here's what the supermodel era amounted to as far as Harold Koda and his team of curators is concerned; a couple of Versace, Chanel, Armani(?), Ralph Lauren(??) and Donna Karan (???) looks in front of a projection of George Michael's "Freedom" music video. That's all. The pinnacle of the model obsession and all we got was a music video and some clothes. I can't imagine why Azzedine Alaia wasn't featured in the exhibit given that this room was so utterly flat. I mean, are Ralph, Donna and Giorgio really the designer names that come to mind when you think of the supermodels? Where was Mugler, or Galliano, or Dolce and Gabbana even? After that came the phase of alternative beauty embodied by grunge and unusual looking models. The clothes were nothing special, mainly just some grunge looks from MJ's infamous Perry Ellis collection and some Anna Sui with a side display of Prada and Helmut Lang to cover the "minimalism" end of the 90s, but the room itself was pretty cool and completely blew the f-ing supermodel section out of the water.
inspire the clothing, they merely embodied an aesthetic that the designers were striving to achieve, so to imply that Peggy Moffitt inspired Rudi Gernreich to bare a woman's breasts, or that Gianni Versace never would have printed Warhol's image of Marilyn Monroe on a gown had it not been for the models he surrounded himself with is simply untrue. The most that can be said about the women to whom this exhibit was dedicated is that their images defined an era in fashion, which is nothing to scoff at. But ultimately that doesn't have anything to do with clothing because the clothes would have come about with or without the models who wore them. This wasn't so much a fashion exhibit as it was an examination of changing ideals of beauty throughout the second half of the 20th century. I stand by my statement that this subject would have made a much better photography exhibit, since that was really the focus here. But since there was also a Francis Bacon exhibit open, I wouldn't consider my $3 completely wasted.
condenaststore.com, vam.co.uk, staleywise.com, harpersbazaar.com, wornthrough.com, missomnimedia.com, flickr.com/the metropolitan museum of art