This spring, the James A. Michener Art Museum
presents contemporary fashions by costume artist Michelle Annette Berkowitz. Celebrated in the society pages of the Greater Philadelphia newspapers for her evening gowns, Berkowitzs design explorations also include millinery, beaded jewelry and sterling silver, and restoration work on vintage apparel. Michelle Berkowitz: Contemporary Costumes is on view in the Museum's Pfundt Gallery from April 17 through August 8, 2010 as a counterpart to Icons of Costume: Hollywood's Golden Era and Beyond.
"Using antique fabrics and trim and period sewing techniques, I create wearable art for todays woman," explains Berkowitz, whose gowns often feature modular components, like crinolines, underskirts, jackets and wraps that can be interchanged to create multiple costumes. "Fashion magazines create an image to which people feel they must conform, but perhaps cannot. Who, though, would not rather be beautiful and unique?"
According to Erika Jaeger-Smith, the Museum's Associate Curator of Exhibitions: "The gowns in this display highlight Michelle's exquisite detail, lavish materials and remarkable attention to fit. In addition, a selection of hats, jackets and purses show the range of design Michelle employs, as well as underscore the modular idea of her work, which allows a one-of-a-kind garment to be worn and look differently on more than one occasion."
Berkowitz's influences include the father of haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth; noted Philadelphia milliner, Alzie Jackson; and the renowned designer Judith Leiber. She is also greatly inspired by historic costumes: "I spend countless hours researching garment construction, incorporating techniques from period pieces created in an era when the size of your stitches revealed the true quality of your work. I have taught myself the American Garment Cutting System to facilitate my understanding of historical attire and I routinely visit museums to study costume collections and historic portraits."
A native of Philadelphia, Berkowitz studied interior design at Drexel University and millinery at Moore College of Art and Design. In addition to her own original work, Berkowitz is actively involved with restoration of costumes from the early days of Hollywood.