Back to the Future: High Style Exhibit Review

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection

Curated by Jan Glier Reeder; organized by the Met, on display at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It seemed as though the phrase “what goes around, comes around” was translated into a motif for this particular exhibition of historic clothing. Given that it consisted of high fashion between 1910 and 1980, I least expected to feel like I was shopping for my graduation outfit! I was surprised by the number of times I caught myself gazing at the mannequins and wishing I could own the masterpieces of legendary designers like Coco Chanel, Givenchy, Lanvin and Christian Dior.

What is incredibly interesting is that although the hemlines, silhouettes and fabrics were specifically designed to suit the political and social climate of the time, they look like present-day haute couture creations. Ball gowns, strapless dresses, evening dresses with peplum tops, sequined wide-legged pants and dresses, all were proof of the fact that fashion trends are revived over time. Three pieces stood out as masterpieces of reinvention:

 Seen above is a blue velvet ‘celestial’ evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli from circa 1920 finished with a combination of matte and sheen to resemble ‘stardust’; twelve zodiac signs embroidered using gold thread and rhinestones to represent comets and shooting stars. Even in today’s fashion, iconography is often used to express a designer’s personal interest. An example is Jeremy Scott’s usage of cartoon characters in his designs to express his playfulness.

Seen above is a blue velvet ‘celestial’ evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli from circa 1920 finished with a combination of matte and sheen to resemble ‘stardust’; twelve zodiac signs embroidered using gold thread and rhinestones to represent comets and shooting stars. Even in today’s fashion, iconography is often used to express a designer’s personal interest. An example is Jeremy Scott’s usage of cartoon characters in his designs to express his playfulness.

Metallic elements incorporated into neutral tones is one of the most ubiquitous trends on the red carpet today, ranging from prismatic dresses to lustrous bags and embellished sweaters. This pastel peach Christian Dior evening dress made from four different shapes and sizes of sequins and paillettes instantly reminded me of Zuhair Murad’s Spring 2015 Couture collection that had dresses in muted colors with pleats at the waist and a bit of flare waist-down.

 Featuring grand piano keys, as buttons, is a crisp Elsa Schiaparelli suit, consisting of a bolero jacket and skirt. Although whimsical, this suit works as formal wear, even today.

Featuring grand piano keys, as buttons, is a crisp Elsa Schiaparelli suit, consisting of a bolero jacket and skirt. Although whimsical, this suit works as formal wear, even today.

The exhibit includes 35 accessories encompassing shoes, hats, sketches and prototypes. Highlights include iconic clear Rhodoid collar necklace embedded with crawling “bugs”, Steven Arpad’s prototype of a black satin pump with metallic accents, and an off-white Matisse hat by Sally Victor.

Opting for a guided tour sets an archaic tone for visitors who (figuratively) travel from the 1900’s all the way until the end of World War 2. Select pieces by Charles James were displayed using impressive technology that combines architecture and LCD screens which deconstructs outfits and builds them back up; the four-leaf clover dress is absolutely fascinating to look at. In particular, the ensembles towards the end of the exhibit featured outfits that clearly depict the dawn of the new woman. These include, the iconic Chanel little black dress, Norman Norell’s single-tone gold evening ensemble and a gold evening dress by Lanvin with a drop waist and floral embroidery.

A visit to the High Style Exhibit explains why some trends are simply worthy of a comeback: vintage has value. I urge you to visit this beautiful exhibit to get a glimpse of what inspires and influences modern-day couturiers.