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The Model as Muse:

Embodying Fashion

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

May 6 to August 9, 2009

 

One of the exhibits rooms is covered with grafitti

 

One of exhibit's rooms is covered with grafitti

By Michele Leight

"I have not prepared a speech" said Marc Jacobs at the press preview of "The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion," at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on May 4th, 2009. He continued to say "The Met means a lot to me, because I used to come here often as a child," emotions that many New Yorkers can identify with.

Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour and Harold Holzer

 

Anna Wintour, center, talking to Marc Jacobs, left, with Harold Holzer, right

Anna Wintour was the usual media magnet, wearing a pretty spring- like dress in greens and yellows, and sportingly posed amidst the clickety- clicking of expensive cameras without interrupting her own private conversation with Jacobs.

 

Anna Wintour, left, and Marc Jacobs, right

The show is sponsored by Marc Jacobs, with additional support from Condé Nast, and will be on view from May 6 to August 9, 2009. Marc Jacobs is also the chair of the "party of the year" Gala Benefit, with co-chairs Justin Timberlake, supermodel Kate Moss and Anna Wintour.

Information stand in the great hall was transformed for annual gala of the Costume Institute

 

Information stand in Great Hall was transformed for annual gala by The Costume Institute

For the Costume Institute's annual Party the information stand in the Great Hall was tranformed and a zebra-striped rug surrounded it and went up the grand staircase.

Flights of mannequin fancy

 

One of more rousing rooms in the exhibit had mannequins' hair standing on end while many of them levitated

The show is a blockbuster with many spectacular and dramatic exhibits. Scattered throughout are hundreds of fashion magazine covers. Both the exhibits and the magazine covers, however, are not illustrated in the handsome catalogue by Harold Koda and Koble Yohannan, which contains numerous essays and many glamorous photographs of some of the most famous models of the past half-century or so.

Metallic garbPerhaps a psydelic homage to Gehry

 

Some of the more fascinating garb had nice metallic sheen, an homage perhaps to the influence of Frank O. Gehry, the architect

Dorian Leigh by Cecil Beaton

 

Days of yore and formal evening gowns were not ignored: photograph at the right by Cecil Beaton in 1948 picture of models including Dorian Leigh dressed by Charles James

Designers featured in this show include Armani, (see The City Review article) Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, (see The City Review article), Courreges, Christian Dior, John Galliano for Christian Dior (see The City Review article), Rudi Gernreich, Halston, Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis, Charles James, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Paco Rabanne, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio di Sant'Angelo and Gianni Versace.

I admired this show professionally, but was also charmed by it for subjective reasons. I confess to ripping out my favorite fashion plates of Twiggy from Vogue and Harpers Bazaar and plastering them all over my bedroom wall as a child, including the famous one by Bert Stern in which she wears a midriff-baring dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent encrusted with beads and paillettes that appears in the catalog accompanying the show, and as an influential "photograph."

 

Jean ShrimptonVerushka

 

Jean Shrimpton, photographed by David Bailey in 1964 for Vogue British, left; Veruschka, photographed by Franco Rubartelli in Yves Saint Laurent outdfit for Vouge Paris in 1968, right

An iconic photograph of Jean Shrimpton by David Bailey (1963) must have come as quite a shock to the fashion establishment, with her enormous, heavily (false) lashed eyes, big beautiful hair, border-line playgirl sexiness and "snob-less" sophistication. "Jean Shrimpton, with her storklike legs, establishedthe fashionable standard. Shrimpton's face, witgh her large, widely spaced eyes and full lips, p;rojected a prty pfrehness rather than the knowing sophistication of her predesseccors. When she first appeared in New york publications, the "sphrimg,' as she was nicknamed was dresed garments th retaineed the ladylike detials of the previous decad4e, while intrudcing a new freedom of form and movement. Increasingly, deignes once buttressed gy the support of boned under/bodieces were cut to hange from the shoudlders. Shrijmpton, likke many top models was woas often posed in readytowear outfits withlittle deisgn complexitiy. "

"Veruschka," the catalogue maintained, "a German aristocrat with a dramatic and compelling biography, was unusually tall for a fashion model. She became, especially with the support of Eileen Ford and American Vogue's editor inchief Diana Vreeland,a ubiquitous editorial presence in the 1960s. Veruschka's distinctive features and lanky, doubled-jointed body extended the possibliity of the fantasy imagery that became increasingly prevalent in the mid- to late 1960s."

"Youthquake" of the Sixties began with Jean Shrimpton, Verushka, Peggy Moffitt and progressed to the more youthful Twiggy photographed by Bert Stern, dressed in a famous Bernard and Francois Baschel's metallic dress. These models wore iconic outfits designed by Paco Rabanne, Andre Courreges and America's Rudi Gernrich - and a personal favorite "Mondrian Dress" by Yves Saint Laurent. I owned a pair of white boots with cutouts, gladiator sandals and several futuristic A- Line dresses that ended way above my knees. All I wanted was to look like those ladies, I poured over every fashion magazine I could get my hands on. It was exciting and they were hugely influential.

I met with no opposition from my parents, although I think my mother regretted the demise of the rosebuds and lace, which did not go with Twiggy.

Images of sophisticated Jean Shrimpton remained on my wall of fashion icons as well, but as an adolescent I could relate far more to Twiggy's pouty, baby face, and her edginess. She looked sweet, innocent, but there was an independent air about her that was compelling. I soon had a hair cut exactly like hers. The flowing tresses that went with the rosebuds were gone too. It was the "Youthquake" haircut.

The catalogue accompanying the show highlights Twiggy's importance to fashion:

Twiggy

Twiggy

"Twiggy's adolescent physique was the perfect frame for the androgynous styles that began to emerge in the 1960s. The trend was manifested in a number of templates: sweet A-line dresses with collars and neckties, suits and dresses that took their details from military uniforms, or, in the case of Yves Saint Laurent, and explicit transposition of the male tuxedo to women. Simultaneously, under the rubric of 'unisex,' designs that were minimalistic, including Nehru suits and space-agey jumpsuits, were proposed by designers such as Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges, and, most famously in the U.S.A., by Rudi Gernreich."

Through brilliant marketing, Twiggy's boyfriend and agent Justin de Villeneuve helped launch her not just as a model, but as a cultural commodity - she did become the face of my generation certainly. Twiggy had her name in lights - which was nice - right alongside the famous designers whose clothes she modeled, and the photographers that immortalized them. Everyone knew who she was. She was not just another good-looking clothes peg upon which clothes hung.

"Considered by many to be the quintessential, iconic model of the mid-twentieth century..., Lisa Fonssagrives, Kohle Yohannan writes in the catalogue, "was a Swedish-born natural blonde with impossibly high cheekbones and a cool, penetrating look of well-born entitlement. Maintaining her faultlessly disciplined ballet dancer's physique throughout her life, Fonssagrives enjoyed remarkable success and an unusually long career - working from the late 1930s to the 1950s. The first fashion model ever to be honored by a cover story in Life by the early 1950s, she had achieved international renown. Her creative collaboration and marriage to Vogue photographer Irving Penn produced some of the most important fashion photographs of the twentieth century.

"By the late 1940s, Fonssagrives was joined at the top of her profession by Dorian Leigh - the elder of the stunningly beautiful Parker sisters from Texas, who, together and separately, sent ripples through the fashion world....Standing a mere five foot four inches, with pale skin and electric blue eyes, Dorian Leigh (whose father forbade her to use the family name for fear her profession would shame them) wielded such mastery of presence and photoghenic dynamism that irving Penn once observed 'She seems to sense the coming click of the camera; her expression builds until she and the camera come alive together.'...Later becoming a successful model agent in New York, Dorian Leigh Parker went on to establish the first legal model agency in Paris in the 1950s.

 

The ravishing Suzy Parker

Suzy Parker, photographed by Milton H. Greene in an outfit by Norman Norell in 1952

"Success seemed to run in the Parker family. Russet-haried, green-eyed, and standing five feet ten, Dorian's younger sistre, Suzy Parker (who by the early 1950s was allowed to use the family name on the laurels of her older sister's success), was as unusual for her coloring as she was for her height....Eventually becoming one of Richard Avedon's favorite models and later appearing in several Hollywood films , Parker was one of the first fashion models of the twentieth century to become a household name - achieving star status usually afforded only to Hollywood actresses."

The show begins with "The Golden Age of Haute Couture," featuring models Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Sunny Harnett, styled and photographed by legendary photographers Cecil Beaton in elaborate floor length satin gowns, or Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, sublimely contrived by Irving Penn.

In the opinion of many fashion historians (who are entitled to their nostalgia), this was the last curtain call of the grand era of Grace Kelly elegance, of sculpted hats, pinched waistlines, flawless make up, and sharp stiletto heels. It was the era of Dior's "New Look," and of Suzy Parker's chiseled perfection in the Vivien Leigh, Deborah Kerr mold. There was little or no comfort involved, it was all about presentation.

Anna Wintour and Thomas P. Cambell

 

Anna Wintour and Thomas P. Campbell, the recently appointed new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

"With the exhibition and this book," Thomas P. Campbell, the recently appointed new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote in is foreword to the catalogue, "The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion, The Costume Institute addresses the subject of fashion obliquely, through the personalities and careers of women whose profession it is to present clothes to their best advantage on the runway, in photographs, and more recently in videos. The truly great models, through their gestures, their poses, and the line of the bodies not only project the designer's intentions to the high-fashion world, but also provide inspiration for them."

In his preface, Harold Koda, the curator in charge of The Costume Institute, provides the following commentary"

"For much of the twentieth century, fashion publications tended to rely on attractive, and often easily identifiable, women from the worlds of society, theater, and film. The phenomenon of non-professional beauties represented in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar has continued with the influence of socialites on the public yielding increasingly to the more pronounced impact of the pop celebrity. We no longer have a phenomenon analogous to the appearance of privileged beauties like Nancy Cunard, Mrs. Harrison Williams, Millicent Rogers, Jacqueline de Ribes, and Pauline de Rothschild, whose personal styles were followed and studied obsessively by women with any aspirations to modishness. In the past, fashion magaiznes had featured the latest styles on actresses of stage and screen, from the Gish and Talmadge sisters in the 1920s to Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Barbra Streisand and Cher in the 1950s and 1960s. But the current presence of pop stars on the covers of high-fashion journals, together with extensive pictorial features, in which they are more the major focus than the designs they sport, is unprecedented. Perhaps, regrettably, the cult of pop celebrity has to some extent superseded the "Best Dressed" society woman as a fashionable icon. This phenomenon extends to the synergy of global brands represented by the exclusive commercial contracts of Jennifer Lopez, Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder, and Madonna."

Harold Koda

 

Harold Koda, curator in charge of The Costume Institute

Mr. Koda argues that "unlike Hollywood character actor who morph chameleon-like from role to role, the women in his book are transformed for each new photograph, but are never subsumed by the process." "What is unique about them is their ability to assert their identities (despite the former intentions of the photographer) rather than be reduced to abstracted principles of feminity," according to Mr. Koda, who also noted that "An extraodinarily large percentage of the clothes worn by these women are not coincident with what are considered by costume historians to be the most influential designs of the second half of the twentieth century."

"In the period of Dior's New Look," Mr. Koda maintains, " the professional model emerged as a celebrated personality with a distinctive identity. Dorian Leigh and Lisa Fonssagrives in the 1940s were joined in the 1950s by Jean Patchett, Dovima, Sunny Harnett and Suzy Parker. Considered by fashion historians as the golden age of haute couture, these decades were characterized by Parisian fashions advancing a soignée artifice that was rather reactionary in the remodeling of the female form through the imposition of structured bras, merry widows, corselets, hip pads, and stiffened crinolines. The liberation of women's bodies of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s was subverted by the move toward a suppression of a woman's waist and the explicit expression of her breasts and hips. Although the prewar preference for a modern sleekness prevailed, the women represented in the memorable images of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Lillian Bassman do not conform to our contemporary notion of aerobicized fitness. Instead, their postures, with back and shoulders hunched forward and buttocks tucked in, often suggest, in the persistence of the early twentieth-century debutante slouch, an enervated lassitude. By contrast, the 196s introduced a youthful liberation of the body. The move toward a new ideal, seen in the transitional figure of Jean Shrimpton achieves a decided paradigmatic shift by the end of the decade with the phenomenon of Twiggy."

Penelope TreeDovima by Avedon

 

Penelope Tree, photographed by David Bailey, 1969, left, and Dovima, right, photographed by Avedon

This heady concoction of idealized feminine beauty is epitomized by Richard Avedon's famous photograph of Dovima with pachederms, illustrated here, which opens the show - being fashionable was extremely high maintenance back then, from the pristine white gloves to the straight seam on the silk stocking, nothing, not a curl or a wisp of hair was out of place.

Blond bombshell Hollywood glamour is captured in the photograph above by Richard Avedon of Sunny Hartnett in Madame Gres sleek, one shouldered, pleated jersey evening gown, stealing the show amidst the gaming tables of the Casino at Le Touquet - this photo was for the September 1954 issue of Harpers Bazaar. The dress is as body conscious and sexy as it is possible to be, but its foundations are classical. Greek goddesses have worn such gowns, and they are still worn at benefits, balls and power brokers soirées today. The casually untidy gold lame bow is an especially elegant touch. (See The City Review article).

"Snobbery has gone out of fashion," (exhibition catalogue) said Mary Quant, whose shop on Kings Road in London was another favorite haunt of mine. The fish net stockings would not have passed muster with Balenciaga or Norell, but they were an instant mood elevator for a young student with very little money to spare.


Anna Wintour and one of her busy assistants

Confident, comfortable, stylish American athleticism was the focus of the '70s, with supermodels like Lisa Taylor and Jerry Hall dominating magazine covers, and marrying high profile men like Mick Jagger. Their lifestyles became part of the fashion scene, not just the clothes they modeled.

On the European front, Yves Saint Laurent's love affair with the light and landscape of Morrocco spilled over into his creative life in some of the most luscious "haute bohemian" fashions of all time, draped on ethnic beauties like Mounia and Kirat. An intuitive genius, and one of the brightest stars in the fashion firmament, Saint Laurent "tweaked" the timeless kaftan, a unisex staple in Algeria, where he was born, and turned it into a fashion icon It is a look that persists across the world today, and it will never go out of style. This was one of his quieter strokes of genius, others are now fashion legend.

The glamorous "trinity" of supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington defined the 80s, spear-heading "branding" at the top fashion houses seeking to garner a more global appeal - and market. Part actress, part supermodel, these sophisticated ladies exuded class without snobbery, effortless glamour, projecting different personas depending on the idea or product their client/fashion house was marketing.

Linda Evangelista

This photograph of Linda Evangelista was the cover illustration for the exhibition's catalogue.

Linda Evangelista snagged the cover of the exhibition catalog in a photograph taken by Steven Meisel for Dolce and Gabanna's "Love" collection, Spring/Summer 1991. She is shown applying lipstick with the confidence, sexiness and glamour of Ava Gardner, but she is thoroughly modern.

Naomi Campbell

 

Naomi Campbell photographed by Peter Lindberg

 

There is a wonderful photograph by Peter Lindberg of Naomi Campbell, who passed away in 2009, in a dalmation jersey print dress with a trio of exquisite dalmations. These ladies still are the grand dames of the most iconic fashion houses.

Kate Moss entered the space of the "trinity" from the 1990's, and she still represents the young across the world today: little adornment, body conscious, grungier, stylish, informal - and above all comfortable. She exudes Twiggy's independent spirit, a keen sense of marching to her own drummer, reminiscent of the passing of the fashion torch from Jean Shrimpton to Twiggy in 60's.

This is "rebel chic," and yet it is the clothes that supersede the model, who is perhaps chosen as the mascot because she is androgynous, "every-woman."

If there is one thing this show does is illustrate visually how minimalism - Prada, Donna Karan, Helmut Lang - dominates the fashion world today. It is definitely the clothes that wear the women. That would be hard to imagine with Linda Evangelista, Twiggy or Sunny Hartnett.

 

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