Chanel in the Jazz Age

The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt have collaborated on an exhibition, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” which is currently on view in New York and will later be on view in Cleveland from Sat, Sept. 30, 2017 through Sun, Jan. 14, 2018. For this exhibition they requested the loan of several pieces from the Kent State University Museum. One of the pieces that is being lent is an amazing dress by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel from 1926 which is made of long blue ombré fringe (KSUM 1997.71.7 ab).

Because the dress is complicated and no one from the Kent State University Museum would be accompanying it to Cooper Hewitt, back in March, members of the staff of the Kent State University Museum traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art to meet with the staff there to discuss how to dress the mannequin.

The process of dressing this piece is challenging both because it requires decision making about how to properly assemble the pieces and because the fringe is unwieldy, requiring the participation of at least two people. The dress has a base layer of silk crepe with a long strip of fringe attached to a band of the crepe. When put on the body the strip of fringe has to be wrapped around a couple of times then fastened with a hook-and-eye at the right shoulder. We can be fairly confident of the correct way to assemble the dress because there photographs by Edward Steichen of Marion Morehouse wearing the dress. These photographs were taken in 1926 and show both the front and back.

The dress is stunning and one of the highlights of our collection. The complexity of the dress is difficult to see when it is displayed fully dressed on the mannequin. These images of it being dressed highlight the challenges of this particular dress and the ingenuity of its design.

Sara Hume, Curator

 

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Wedding inspiration from the 1920s

As I described in an earlier blog post, we are undergoing a project to inventory our entire collection of dresses from the 1920s. Many themes pop out at us as we are going through the drawers. In fact, the drawers themselves seem to be organized by color. In the first few drawers we have found a number of wedding dresses as well as dresses that could provide inspiration for today’s brides. A couple of the dresses have the full-skirted style known as the “robe de style” although most are the more typical cylindrical silhouette, so closely identified with the decade. There is also an almost complete lack of lace although there is plenty of silk satin and beading. We hope you enjoy the photo gallery!

Sara Hume, Curator/Associate Professor

Gold embroidery on a court dress and train

1983.1.2011 and 1986.97.28
Evening dress and court train with gold embroidery, ca. 1815. KSUM 1983.1.2011 and KSUM 1986.97.28. Collection of the Kent State University Museum.

We have recently received a few inquiries about this beautiful dress and court train and while editing the photos, I decided to share them with the public in a blog post. This evening dress is of ivory moiré silk faille, which has been richly embroidered with gold and is paired with a detachable court train of green velvet also embroidered with gold. These pieces are English and date from 1810-1825. Although they have different accession numbers they were both donated to the museum by the founder, Shannon Rodgers and have been exhibited together several times.

Sara Hume, Curator/Assistant Professor

Choosing the mannequin

In an earlier post, I discussed the process of preparing a custom mount for our upcoming exhibition, “The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War.” I thought I would show a comparison between the pieces dressed on these custom mounts and how they appeared on our other mannequins. Among the pieces in this exhibition that have been displayed before are these two dresses from 1912.

2004.25.2.BodiceDetail Purple 1912 1986.20.1.DetailsmThe first is a beautiful dress of green silk chiffon and lace. This dress had been in an earlier exhibition about the Gazette du Bon Ton. when it had been mounted on one of our “Christy” mannequins. The long torso and the pelvic thrust of the mannequin make a significant difference in the silhouette of the dress. In fact, the dress would have originally been worn with a corset that extended to mid thigh (like this one) making this pose impossible. The “Christy” is also too tall for the dress so that rather than pooling on the floor the dress ends at the ankles.

A second dress from the exhibition that had previously been exhibited is the purple wool and velvet dress that was worn by the mother-of-the-bride to a wedding in 1912. In an earlier exhibition it was mounted on a “Kyoto” mannequin which was designed for 19th century dresses and works wonderfully for a number of our pieces (like this or this or this). However, at the turn-of-the-century, the shape of corsets changed significantly and created a different silhouette. Rather than pushing the bust upwards and creating fullness nearer the armpits, the corsets allowed the bustline to fall much lower as the chest was pushed forward and the hips backwards. The sideview of the dress on the two different mounts shows how the differences in body shape change the way the dress hangs.

Certainly there are positive aspects to the mannequins, namely the head which  allows the complete ensemble to include hair and hats. However, achieving the proper silhouette provides a better sense of the way that the dress originally looked. Posture was as important to achieving the fashionable silhouette as the drape of the skirt and the placement of the waist.

Sara Hume, Curator

A Peek inside a Charles James gown

This week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened their latest exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The Kent State University Museum has several Charles James dresses including a nearly identical dress to one in the Met’s exhibition. James first designed the dress in 1949 for Mrs. William S. Paley, but also made additional copies of the dress for a number of women including Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., Eleanor Lambert, Milicent Rodgers and Gloria Swanson. Eight women wore their copies of this gown to the finale of a March of Dimes benefit. The dress in the Kent State collection is the one worn by Sloan Simpson (wife of New York Mayor William O’Dwyer).

This dress was included in the 2007 exhibition here at the Kent State University Museum, entitled simply “Charles James.” In the context of that exhibition our March of Dimes dress was photographed inside and out. The interior pictures attest to the exquisite craftsmanship and architectural scaffolding that underpin a Charles James dress.

Sara Hume, Curator

Custom Mounts for World War I Exhibition

We are currently working on dressing pieces that will be included in our upcoming exhibition: “The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War.” Fashions from the period covered, 1912 and 1922, are particularly challenging to dress. First, many of the pieces have condition issues owing to the preference for very sheer, fragile fabrics. Second, the silhouette does not suit any of the mannequins that we have. Our Kyotos, which we use for 19th century pieces, are too buxom and have shoulders that slope too much, while our more contemporary mannequins are too broad shouldered and have inappropriate hip thrusts. Normally we might just use dress forms but many of the pieces have sheer fabrics around the neck and sleeves that require mounts that have arms. Our budget does not allow us to purchase mannequins that would be suitable for these pieces so we decided to make custom mounts out of fosshape and foam.

Jim Williams, our exhibition designer/preparator, and I adapted an existing dress form into a shape that would be small enough to fit the smallest pieces in the exhibition. Jim used this piece as a mold to shape fosshape forms onto. (We also used fosshape as bases for wigs which we covered in an earlier post) He then positioned magnets in the forms and into foam arms so that the arms could attach to the form.

I padded the fosshape form so that it would fit this beautiful silk and lace dress from 1915-17, then covered the padding with a layer of stockinette to hold everything in place. I sewed together white jersey to cover the neck and shoulders of the form. I also made matching covers for the foam arms, leaving openings for the magnets so that the form and arms could hold together.

When the dress is on exhibition, the mount should not attract any attention to itself. Hopefully our visitors will just be able to admire the beautiful lace dress.

Sara Hume, Curator

A Closer Look at an 18th-Century Gown

This piece is currently on exhibit at the Kent State University Museum in the “Fashion Timeline,” which is an permanent installation featuring a survey of historical pieces from our collection covering 200 years from 1750 to 1950. The pieces are rotated out regularly and this robe à la française will remain on view through summer 2014. We just completed photography of several of the pieces from our latest rotation, and this dress photographed so beautifully (well, because it is so beautiful) that I felt it deserved a blog post of its own.

This robe à la française is on view in the exhibition, "Fashion Timeline."
This robe à la française is on view in the exhibition, “Fashion Timeline.” Robe à la française, German, ca. 1750s, KSUM 2002.35.7 ab.

This dress is made from a luxurious textile which has a striped ground with beautiful ombré blue stripes on the cream. There is then a pattern woven with a supplementary warp so that the figures are in twill weave while the ground weave is satin. The resulting textile has a subtle variation of color and texture. The peach or salmon color has faded over the years and is darker and brighter in the folds, but this does not diminish its beauty.

Obviously this gown was intended as a showcase for this stunning fabric, which cascades uninterrupted from neck to hem in the back. The fabric has been carefully laid out so that the stripes fall down along the center of the Watteau pleats. The fabric that has been pleated into the ruched trim, however, is arranged so that the stripes run horizontally. These decoratively pleated pieces are edged with braid that carefully coordinates with the fabric of the robe.

The robe is paired with a quilted petticoat of cream satin which was part of the same donation. The information from the donor of the dress suggests that the dress was German. One interesting aspect of the dress is the neckline. In the more usual cut of a robe à la française, the trim (or robings) run straight down the front of the opening at the bodice then down the skirt. You can see this construction in this yellow robe à la française.  However, the trim at the neckline on this piece curves around form a 90 degree angle from the neck to the front opening.

 

Sara Hume, Curator