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LACMA Debuts World.Class European Costume Acquisition with Fashioning Fashion
Installation view, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. Photo: © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915, featuring selections from the museum’s recently acquired major collection of European men’s, women’s, and children’s dress and accessories. On view through March 27, 2011, the exhibition includes nearly 160 examples of fashionable dress, undergarments, and accessories, many on view for the first time. Curated by Sharon S. Takeda, department head and senior curator, and Kaye D. Spilker, curator of costume and textiles at LACMA, the exhibition tells the story of fashion’s aesthetic and technical development from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I.

"After seeing these rare objects," said Michael Govan, "It was clear that we should bring the collection to Los Angeles, as one of 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."

"The addition of this extraordinary collection is a coup simply for its breadth and depth," said Takeda. "But even more significantly for its overall quality and number of extremely rare pieces—shown widely in this exhibition."

Organized in four thematic sections—Timeline, Textiles, Tailoring, and Trim—the exhibition examines the sweeping changes that occurred in fashionable dress from 1700 to 1915, providing an in-depth look at the details of luxurious textiles, exacting tailoring techniques, and lush trimmings.

As the first of the four sections, this portion offers a chronological panorama of both female and male fashions. The women’s visual timeline is illustrated with dresses in various shades of white in order to focus attention on the evolving fashionable silhouette—how each successive era changed waistlines and hemlines and emphasized a different part of the human anatomy. By contrast, the men’s timeline begins with colorful examples that showcase how eighteenth-century aristocratic men rivaled their female counterparts in the desire to impress with dress, and concludes with a subdued 1911 pinstripe suit, a harbinger of the business suit that has remained relatively unchanged for a century.

The fashioning of fashion begins with the choice of fabric by medium, weight, color, and occasionally pattern. An assortment of textiles—from silk to cotton, gauze to velvet, plain to printed—is highlighted in the Textiles section. Throughout the eighteenth century, new designs for dress fabrics emerged with each change of season. The fabrication of lavish textiles by hand on drawlooms was labor-intensive and therefore expensive, as seen with the circa 1715 ―bizarre silk‖ man’s waistcoat. Even with technical innovations such as the perfection of the Jacquard loom attachment in 1801 (which allowed for increasingly complex patterns to be woven semi-mechanically) fabric often remained the costliest feature of high fashion.

The tailoring section explores the manipulation of textiles through cutting, stitching, and padding in order to sculpt three-dimensional garments that conformed to the idealized shape or fashionable silhouette of each era. In the eighteenth century, lengths of expensive fabric were used efficiently with little waste; cut into few pattern pieces, garments were hand-stitched. Suit jackets for men were unpadded while dresses were given volume with the aid of wide hooped petticoats known as paniers. During the nineteenth century, with the advancement of tailoring tools and techniques, styles changed in dramatic ways, accentuating or minimizing different body parts—shoulders, breasts, waist, hips, derriere—in ongoing attempts to keep up with fashion.

The artistry of embroiderers, quilters, and lace makers is undeniable when examining the details of the elegantly embellished garments that will be on display in the Trim section. Examples such as the eighteenth-century man’s wool suit with stunning gold-coated silver threads and sequins and the late nineteenth-century woman’s wool and silk velvet evening mantle designed by Émile Pingat (France, active 1860-1896) and decorated with silk and metallic-thread embroidery, glass beads, and ostrich-feather trim highlight the time-consuming hand techniques of artisans.

Fashioning Fashion offers an enriching opportunity to examine the transformation of fashion over a span of more than two centuries, as well as providing historical context to show how political events, technical inventions, and global trade profoundly affected style.

Fashioning Fashion is one of the three exhibitions opening LACMA’s new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, a 45,000-square-foot building by Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. The installation will be designed by renowned opera stage designers Pier Luigi Pizzi and Massimo Pizzi Gasparon—their first project in Los Angeles. A fully illustrated catalogue co-published by Delmonico Books-Prestel will accompany the exhibition. The Fifth R.L. Shep Triennial Symposium on Textiles and Dress, organized in conjunction with the exhibition, will take place on January 15, 2011 in the Bing Auditorium.

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