Yet another obsession…Fashion/Costume exhibitions, adore them. I have had the privilege of seeing exhibitions all over the world from the exceptional presentations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum at FIT, to the V & A in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath, to the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum in Paris to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg as well as many museums in the States…love them and learn from each of them. The exhibitions we have had over the years at the Chicago History Museum, in many cases, have equaled those. Let us now discuss the current Costume Collection exhibition at the Chicago History Museum Making Mainbocher The First American Couturier.
Is it the biggest exhibition, no…is it the most well-known designer….no. What it is is an extraordinary example of examining a superbly curated show of work by a master craftsman who began his career as an illustrator and editor and, without formal training, became a master couturier in Paris and in New York and. in my opinion, a marketing genius.
Let’s take a look at the way the exhibition has been laid out. It is divided into sections highlighting the various phases of Main Bocher (the man) and Mainbocher’s (the brand) work. A native Chicagoan (born in 1890) he formed a work ethic in the Midwest and was not understood by his teachers…how many artistic talents are when they want to express themselves in an untraditional manner, thank heaven that we live today and artists are given space to be the creators they are meant to be! After settling in Paris he did illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar in France and then became an editor at Vogue Paris rising to become editor in chief of the magazine. There are wonderful examples of his art in the exhibit…they have the look of Erte and Bakst but most certainly are all Main Bocher. A highlight is an oil on canvas painting he did of Thomas Rector and Hazel Allen and their “Hawaiian Waltz” in 1917. You can see his stylized signature in the left-hand corner of the painting. It is the first time it has been exhibited, quite a coup for the Museum.
He then turned his love for fashion to Haute Couture (1921-1939) and the rest, as they say, is history. I am a firm believer that things happen in their proper time and Mainbocher, the designer, happened at the right time. He came to New York and 57th Street in 1940-1971 where he continued his understated elegance for his best-dressed clientele. When given editorial credit in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar he demanded facing pages, unheard of in the industry. Having cut his teeth in publishing he knew how to maneuver the press to his advantage.
The couture workrooms and the iconic image of the corset shot in the workrooms by the incredible Horst B. Horst as the Nazis were marching into Paris.
There are three pieces in the exhibition that the designer gave to the Collection the brown suit you see in the photo below is one of these garments. Next to it the lovely peach gown with attached jeweled bib is my favorite of the Collection.
The three pieces you experience as you enter the exhibition, seen below, across from this grouping is a video that shows Mainbocher at work.
You will find a wall devoted to Mainbocher’s theater costuming which I discussed in the post I did on the catalog in my book review on Tuesday.
Next to that wall is the interaction area which leads us to the platform with the uniforms he did for the WAVES and the Girl Scouts of America and the Passavant school of nursing.
Girl Scout uniforms
The day after the wonderful opening gala celebration at a sit-down dinner, silent auction and dancing, members of the Museum were treated to an amazing lecture by Arnaud de Lummen the Managing Director of LUVANIS S.A. the lead corporate sponsor of the exhibition. Oh my, what an insightful and fascinating presentation. His knowledge and expertise in resurrecting, in his words, “Sleeping Beauties” the “lost” designer names that those of us who are interested in the history of fashion and the study of the fashion designer know but are not generally known to the public was remarkable. His hour-long presentation featured an in-depth look at Main Bocher the man and Mainbocher the brand. I am delighted to tell you that M. Lummen will return to us in the Spring of 2017 for yet another lecture…I will, of course, keep you updated.
Petra Slinkard, Curator of the Exhibition with M. Lummen
As you leave the exhibition you look down and find a medallion…it is a replica of the plaque placed in the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue in New York on the Fashion Walk of Fame in 2002 (much like the stars on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles). A lasting tribute to an American genius who is now getting the long over due recognition in a superbly thought out exhibition and a one of a kind monograph. Kudos to CHM, Petra Slinkard, Jessica Pushor, Rosemary Adams and the incredible CHM staff and volunteers who have given Mainbocher his place in the fashion sun!
In closing, I don’t plan on featuring photos of myself but thought you might enjoy a picture taken at the opening night party, you can see my pleasure in this wonderful accomplishment…that is the look of a thrilled long term member of the Costume Council! I hope you will have the same expression when you tour the presentation which you can enjoy through August 22, 2017!.
All photos with the exception of the one of me (I don’t do selfies!!!!) are from my handy iPhone.
For further information go to www.chicagohistory.org
Also go to www.makingmainbocher.com