Fashion Highlights from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Woman's evening coat
1915 - 1920
Founded in 1874, Liberty and Co. specialized in importing such goods as fans, kimonos, rugs, and porcelain to cater to the demand for Asian style. Liberty's Costume Department, established in 1884, was directed by the architect E.W. Godwin, a proponent of the dress reform movement. Liberty's costumes appealed especially to "artistic" dressers, who considered conventional fashions to be ugly and tasteless. Variations on favorite styles appeared in Liberty catalogues for years, and many outfits, such as this kimono-shaped evening coat with hand-embroidered trim, were regarded as timeless. The Arts and Crafts proponents also protested the "false" bright hues produced by aniline dyes, creating clothing with subdued natural dyes that were aligned with their interest in hand-crafted, anti-industrial goods. This coat was exhibited in Think Pink (October 2, 2013 - May 26, 2014).
1890 - 1899
Liberty & Co. of Regent Street in London was well-known in the late nineteenth century as a purveyor of fine fabrics and eastern wares closely associated with the Aesthetic Movement. In 1884, they opened a costume department, producing garments that were strongly influenced by Rational dress theories and Aesthetic movement sensibilities. Garments like this one that bear the label of the Liberty & Co. Artistic and Historic Costume Studio are quite rare. Made of cream silk gathered into pleats with small puffed sleeves and smocking across the yoke, this blouse is an excellent example of historically-inspired artistic dress of the late 1890s.
Woman's evening dress
Fashions of the 1910s reflected the taste for Orientalism which was partly inspired by the exotic costumes designed by Leon Bakst for the Ballets Russes. The ballet troupe visited Paris in 1909 and London in 1911, influencing such important designers as Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, and Madame Paquin. This evening dress, designed by Maison Agnes, has a complex layering of shimming, metallic fabrics and applied ornament, including a stylized rose that became a signature motif of the Art Deco style popular in the 1920s. From 1912 to 1930, Maison Agnes was directed by Madam Havet, whose name appears on the label.
Mariano Fortuny was one of the foremost proponents of classically-inspired and exoticist fashion in the early 20th century. His signature finely pleated, silk “Delphos” gowns and metallic printing on silk velvet are still recognized as unique contributions to the fashion canon. The silhouette and fabric of this dress shows both Middle Eastern and Renaissance influence; the undulating stems, leaves and palmettes on the gold-stenciled silk velvet imitates 15th century Venetian velvets.
This dress by Madame Chéruit is representative of the highest levels of craftsmanship and its intricate and graphic sequin treatment is emblematic of Art Deco style. In Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, the author identifies the House of as one of the four greatest couture houses of the time along with Callot Soeurs, Paquin, and Doucet. In "A Shopping Guide to Paris," written in 1929 by the Bonney sisters, Chéruit is described as a "conservative house," nonetheless showcasing "[f]ine workmanship" and "impeccable taste." Madeleine Chéruit received her training at the house of Raudnitz and opened her own house in the early 20th century and she is perhaps best remembered today for having bought some of Paul Poiret's earliest sketches and for mentoring Louise Boulanger, another great female couturier. In 1925, Mme. Chéruit retired but her house continued until 1935 when it was taken over by Schiaparelli.
Before becoming well-known for her adult fashions, Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) achieved recognition designing children's clothing. The charming confections she invented for her younger sister, then young daughter, Marie Blanche, caught the eye of the fashionable elite. By 1909, she was designing costumes for the mothers, as well, and soon mother-daughter matching ensembles became her distinctive sphere. Lanvin imbued her woman's garments with a new ebullient youthfulness, while at the same time adding sophistication to young girls she dressed, including this organdy girl’s dress The deep blue cotton is cut in a simple silhouette with a natural waistline. It is decorated with self-fabric ribbon in a vermicelli and concentric circles pattern, enlivened by discreet appliques of printed cotton roses.
Harem evening ensemble
1935 - 1936
Lanvin, one of the first to liberate women from Victorian corsetry, continued to be innovative and influential throughout her long career. Her 1930s evening dresses often took their inspiration from Asia and explored the play of flowing matte drapery against stitched and quilted lame or gilt leather. In this dress, the cleverly cut skirt panels loop around the legs to give the effect of harem trousers. Parisian couturier Paul Poiret (French, 1879-1944) introduced women’s harem pants as early as the 1910s, but they were not readily accepted by mainstream wearers. By the late 1930s, women were more comfortable asserting their independence and this design, which was featured in both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, cunningly refers to the exoticism of the East as well as women’s ever-increasing emancipation.
1930 - 1939
The MFA has rich holdings of children's dress from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of which were highlighted in the 1997 exhibition Dressing Up: Children's Fashions 1720-1920. The twentieth century children’s dress collection includes two dresses worn by child star and popular culture icon Shirley Temple. This sheer red geometrically patterned dress with smocked bodice and lace Peter Pan collar was worn on Temple’s highly publicized auto trip across America in 1938.
1930 - 1939
The MFA has rich holdings of children's dress from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of which were highlighted in the 1997 exhibition Dressing Up: Children's Fashions 1720-1920. The twentieth century children’s dress collection includes two dresses worn by child star and popular culture icon Shirley Temple. Temple wore this midnight blue silk crepe with coral silk diamond-shaped detail in the 1936 film Stowaway in 1936 and when she presented the best actress award to Claudette Colbert for the 1935 film It Happened One Night.
Main Rousseau Bocher, known as Mainbocher
1930 - 1939
This dress is by the Chicago-born couturier Mainbocher, one of the first American designers to gain entrée into the rarified world of Paris haute couture. After working as a fashion editor for French Vogue, Mainbocher opened a successful fashion salon on Avenue George V in 1930. Mainbocher eventually returned to America during World War II, where he continued to operate a highly respected, and influential, couture house. Mainbocher became synonymous with the elegant, bias-cut gowns of the 1930s, most famously dressing Wallis Simpson for her marriage to the Duke of Windsor in 1937. This custom-made floral gold lame evening gown is a perfect example of his refined, simple sensibility. The dress is a tour-de-force of couture construction, consisting of complex pieced panels and ingenious seaming that follows the floral patterning. The dress has an elegant fantail back which further emphasizes the fluid line of the dress.
Woman's evening gown
Travis Banton originally came to Hollywood in 1925, when the role of the costume designer was becoming increasingly professionalized. He eventually designed for more than 200 films and played a major role in the construction of Hollywood glamour. This dress captures the elegance and implicity of much of Bant’ons’ work, featuring a reflective, sensuious fabric cut on the bias to closely follow the lines of the body. Worn by one of the first successful Chinese-American actresses – Anna May Wong – his design includes a subtle nod to Chinese embroidery in the multi-colored flowers on the shoulders. The dress was featured in the Museum of Fine Art’s exhibition Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen (September 9,2014 – March 8, 2015).
1930 - 1939
Described as a quintessentially British designer, Victor Steibel’s long lived career as one of the premiere London couturiers began in the jazz era and ended in the swinging sixties. After training with Court dressmaker Reville, he opened his own couture house in 1932. This silk crepe dress inventively spirals the inset floral-printed silk around the body to further emphasize the soigné line of its bias cut. The couture craftsmanship is also evident in the appliquéd flowers that appear as if they are growing out of the crepe.
Woman's "Utility" dress
During World War II, the British government enlisted the help of The Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (known as IncSoc) to create a line of prototype Utility clothes. The designs were published in Vogue to much acclaim, though individual designer's names were not linked to the garments. Norman Hartnell, a member of IncSoc and designer to the royal family, became the first to actually attach his name to mass-produced Utility fashion. His collaboration with the high-end brand Berketex helped make Utility acceptable and was an important morale booster. Austerity rules limited seam allowances to a minimum, and the wearer of this ready-to-wear garment altered the garment to suit her.
1940 - 1949
Claire McCardell was one of the most influential American designers of the 20th century, best known for her sportswear and for creating simple, comfortable clothes to suit the active lifestyle of modern women. She avoided heavy understructures and superfluous decoration, instead using creative and unconventional cut and draping to create an elegant line. For most of her career she worked for Townley Frocks, a New York ready-to-wear manufacturer, and enjoyed great success with timeless designs such as the 1938 "Monastic" dress, an unfitted shift cut on the bias, that could be belted or tied in a variety of ways to suit the shape and taste of the wearer. Wrapped elements, which permitted the wearer to adjust the garment for comfort, were particularly prominent in McCardell's casual sundresses and playsuits. This dress is a more daring and innovative example of her work. It features two of McCardell's signature devices: the prominent use of brass hook-and-eye closures, and the use of plaid fabrics cut on the bias.
Throughout her career Madame Gres continued to refine knife-pleated, glacially immobile jerseys that suddenly flowed into fluid pools of fabric approximately half way down the body. In this dresss, what appears to be the waistline juncture of skirt and bodice is actually a construction line of stitching to hold the pleats in place as they appear to weave their way to the bustline. In this romantically graceful gown, the random drape of the classical world has been married with the mathematical precision of twentieth-century technology.
Woman's skirt and blouse
During World War II, austerity rules restricted the amount of fabric that could be used in garments, but textile designers were still free to concoct colorful prints. Color, in fact was the subject of numerous Vogue articles during the war, as well as the focus of exhibitions put on by the British Color Council. Moygashel, the brand name of the fabric from which this ensemble is made, was a famous manufacturer of high-quality Irish linen.
The earliest Balenciaga in the collection, this dress is from the designer’s much-publicized “Enfanta” collection of 1939. Although he is recognized as one of this century's great French designers Christobal Balenciaga Eisaguirre frequently referenced his Spanish heritage in his work. After overcoming the turmoil of Civil War that swept Spain in the 1930's, Balenciaga opened a series of couture establishments in Spain, naming them after his mother, Eisa. In 1938 he moved to Paris, opening a haute couture establishment under his own name, and within a year has been proclaimed the designer of the day. This remarkable evening dress carries all the hallmarks of having been part of the notable “Enfanta” collection with its peplumed bodice, raised and wrapped passementerie, and sequins and paste adornment reminiscent of the embroidery on bullfighter’s suits.
Woman's evening dress
Christian Dior is one of the most important couture designers of the twentieth century and his “New Look” of 1947 revolutionized fashion in the post World War II era. While his career was relatively short, the couture house that carries his name is still associated with the highest standards of haute couture artistry and craftsmanship. This black Chantilly lace and velvet dress from his 1956 "Arrow" line embodies the hyper-femininity associated with Dior’s oeuvre.
Woman's ensemble in two parts (evening dress)
This is one of over 100 ensembles by the American designer Arnold Scaasi in the MFA Textiles and Fashion Arts collection. Scaasi, primarily a custom designer, also did luxurious ready-to-wear collections from 1956–1963 and after 1984. His work was worn by celebrities and socialites in New York, Palm Beach and California and is almost unique during the second half of the century, which was dominated by the ready-to-wear industries. The collection also includes the much publicized designs by Scaasi such as the pants suit worn by Barbra Streisand when she won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1969 as well as a coat made for Louise Nevelson of an Indian paisley shawl and chinchilla.
During the 1960s, Pierre Cardin rose to prominence as one of the most innovative and influential designers of the French couture. After working for the houses of Paquin, Schiaparelli, and Dior, Cardin opened his own house in 1950. In the 1960s, when the cost of haute couture was rising and the number of wealthy clients diminishing, Cardin - along with André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, Emmanuel Ungaro, and Paco Rabanne - was instrumental in changing the direction of French couture by designing clothes for the rising teenage market and creating a more accessible ready-to-wear line. By the mid-1960s, when this dress was designed, Cardin was interested in the Op Art movement and space travel and was experimenting with new "space age" materials like vinyl. This mini dress reflects his characteristic approach to design during the period: the sleeveless A-line black wool crepe features a neckline that daringly plunges to the navel with attached horizontal bands of chrome plates that act as a trompe l'oeil "necklace."
Dress with sash
English designer John Bates established his line “Jean Varon” in 1959, choosing a French name because the world was still following the dictates of the Paris couture. Bates however, responded to the contemporary energy on the streets of swinging sixties London, and soon found success designing youthful garments for the mod generation. Bate’s success was cemented when he was hired in 1965 to design the ensembles for Diana Rigg’s character Emma Peel in the hit television show The Avengers. Bates continued to design under the Jean Varon label well into the 1970s, when he created this boldly patterned maxi-skirt ensemble.
1970 - 1979
During the late 1960s and 1970s Ossie Clark was known as the "King of King's Road." His designs for the avant-garde boutique Quorum were forward looking and epitomized the British Rock scene of the 1970s. He clientele was comprised of artists and rock stars of the decade including Mick Jagger, who wore an Ossie Clark jumpsuit at his 1973 New York concert. Clark was a master fabric cutter and showed a brilliant facility with materials as varied as snakeskin, Harris Tweed, and silk. He was particularly renowned, however, for his flowing and feminine printed silk dresses, designed in collaboration with his wife, the textile designer Celia Birtwell. This dress features Ossies' signature feminine and bohemian look in its figure hugging cut, deep v-neckline drawn into front gathers, tiered flowing skirts, and full sleeves gathered at wrists.
Woman's evening dress: "Pollution Alert"
Geoffrey Beene began the serious study of fashion in Paris just after World War II--a time when the French couture began to reassert itself as the fashion leader. Beene returned to New York in 1949 and continued to practice couture techniques, although within the restrictions of the American ready-to-wear industry. Beene enjoyed increasing success, opening a business in his own name in 1963. By the late 1960s, fashion in both Europe and the US had witnessed a sartorial revolution and the unstructured, youth-oriented clothing that gained popularity during this period contrasted sharply with the structured styles in which Beene was trained. This early 1970s dress is more topical in scope than many of Beene's designs, making reference to the environmentalist movements concerns regarding air pollution.
1970 - 1990
Whiting & Davis Co. started as Wade, Davis & Co, as a silver jewelry designer. In 1896 Charles Whiting partnered with Edward Davis to transform metal mesh into fashion creating handbags, safety gloves, military gear, and jewelry. One of their more dynamic designs includes the use of metallic mesh for bathing suits - including this one that was featured on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover.
Dress (part of a two-piece set)
This 1984 printed chiffon and tulle gown is by Zandra Rhodes, an important and influential British fashion designer who came of age in the swinging sixties and whose hippie-inspired designs continue to be produced. Rhodes originally trained as a textile designer, yet achieved success creating highly original garments featuring innovative fabrics based on her sketches. Referencing inspirations as diverse as Star Wars, Elizabethan silks, and Kenyan wildlife, this floor length gown illustrates her interest in romantic dressing filtered through a distinctly 1980s lens in its exuberant tulle ruffles and paillette-embroidered bodice.
Dress (part one of a four-piece ensemble)
In the 1980s, haute couture was just beginning to reestablish its prominence as a force for innovation in the fashion industry. The primary instigator for this change was Christian Lacroix (b. 1951), one of the most important French designers to emerge from France in the 1980s. After graduating from the École du Louvre in 1981, he was hired by the venerated house of Jean Patou, established in 1919. His background in art history (he initially trained to be a museum curator) is evinced by the strong thread of eclectic historicism present in many of his collections. At the House of Patou, Lacroix first experimented with his famous "pouf" silhouette inspired by the robe à la polonaise, popular in the 1770s and 1780s. This dress exhibits the more nascent elements of the pouf that Lacroix would go on to exaggerate to extreme lengths at his own house, which he founded in 1987 (the first couture house opened since Yves Saint Laurent in 1961).
Gianni Versace’s untimely death in 1996 brought an abrupt end to the career of a man at the height of his powers. His clients numbered among the most fashionable women in the world and his runway shows the most anticipated events in the fashion calendar. His sense of drama, fine craftsmanship, luxurious materials, and sensitivity to the world around him make him one of his era’s most iconic designers—and the 1980s/early 1990s were among the twentieth century’s most glamorous periods. The 1992 collection brought to the runway clothing that can be described as Baroque, animal, jeune fille, and balletic. This dress was worn on the runway by one of the most famous supermodels of the era, Linda Evangelista. Its silhouette was inspired by ballet tutus, but Versace constructed it from a silk alligator print appliqued with Baroque swags and the bodice and elaborate petticoat are studded with Swarovski crystals.
Cover image: Arnold Scaasi, Evening dress (detail) , Fall 1958. Metal; plastic; tulle; silk satin weave, ikat; silk plain weave. 2009.4037.1. Arnold Scaasi Collection—Gift of Arnold Scaasi. Made possible through the generous support of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, anonymous donors, Penny and Jeff Vinik, Lynne and Mark Rickabaugh, Jane and Robert Burke, Carol Wall, Mrs. I. W. Colburn, Megan O'Block, Lorraine Bressler, and Daria Petrilli Eckert. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Evening dress (detail) , 1949. Silk, plain weave (faille), appliquéd and embroidered with sequins, rhinestones, silk flowers, and silk wrapped wire, with silk net and silk plain weave lining. 1999.281.1-3. Otis Norcross Fund. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Liberty & Co., Woman's evening coat, 1915–1920. Silk satin embroidered with silk; tassels. 51.62. Gift of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Liberty & Co., Woman's blouse, 1890s. Silk. 2006.1180. Frank B. Bemis Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Maison Agnès, Woman's evening dress, 1914. Appliquéd silk, silver lamé, net and lace, embroidered and appliquéd with taffeta, metallic thread, rhinestones and glass beads. 54.810. Gift of Mrs. Edward R. Mitton. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Mariano Fortuny (y Madrazo), Teagown, 1920. Silk; velvet, stencil with gold and silver pigment, silk plain weave, pleated; glass beads. 1982.669. Gift of Barbara Deering Danielson. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
House of Chéruit, Woman's dress, 1927. Silk plain weave; sequins. 2009.4627. Helen and Alice Colburn Fund, Harriet Otis Cruft Fund, and funds donated by the Fashion Council, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Jeanne Lanvin, Girl's dress, 1922, Cotton; Silk; cotton; plain weave organdy, printed chintz silk; crepe, plain weave. 1998.437a b. Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Jeanne Lanvin, Harem evening ensemble in two parts, 1935-36. Silk plain weave crepe, trimmed with gilded leather. 51.2627a. Gift of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dress Worn by Shirley Temple on Her Trip Across America in 1938, 1930s. Silk with lace collar. 2015.3124. Gift of Lizbeth Krupp. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dress Worn by Shirley Temple in 1936 Film "Stowaway,” 1930s. Silk crepe. 2015.3125. Gift of Lizbeth Krupp. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Main Rousseau Bocher, known as Mainbocher, Gown, 1930s. 2012.442. Museum purchase with funds donated by the Fashion Council, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in honor of Alexandra B. Huff. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Travis Banton, Woman's evening gown, 1934. Silk satin, embroidered. 2011.46. Museum purchase with funds donated by Jane Pappalardo. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Victor Stiebel, Evening dress, 1930s. Silk plain weave (crepe) and silk plain weave discharged and printed. 2014.1050. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Norman Hartnell, Woman's "Utility" dress, about 1942. Wool plain weave, fulled. 2010.1436. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Claire McCardell, Woman's dress, late 1940s–1950s. Cotton, brass hook and eye closures. 2006.1274. Gift of Miss Mary Chamberlain, by exchange. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Charles James, Evening dress, 1951. Silk plain weave (chiffon) and satin. 2004.138. Museum purchase in honor of Elizabeth Ann Coleman, David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, 1998-2004, with funds donated by the Textile and Costume Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Warner Brothers Company, Merry Widow corset “Champs Elysées,” 1955. Cotton, rayon, rubber, nylon, lace. 1992.585. Gift of Dorothy S. Zinburg. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Madame Grès, Evening dress, 1962. Silk knit (jersey). 1998.434. Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Fashion Sport, Labeled: CC41, Woman's suit in two parts, about 1945. Linen plain weave (Moygashel), printed; plastic; metal. 2010.1401.1-2. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Evening dress, 1949. Silk, plain weave (faille), appliquéd and embroidered with sequins, rhinestones, silk flowers, and silk wrapped wire, with silk net and silk plain weave lining. 1999.281.1-3. Otis Norcross Fund. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Christian Dior, Woman's evening dress in four parts, 1956. Lace. 1984.561a. Gift of Mrs. John P. Sturges. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Arnold Scaasi, Evening dress, Fall 1958. Metal; plastic; tulle; silk satin weave, ikat; silk plain weave. 2009.4037.1. Arnold Scaasi Collection—Gift of Arnold Scaasi. Made possible through the generous support of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, anonymous donors, Penny and Jeff Vinik, Lynne and Mark Rickabaugh, Jane and Robert Burke, Carol Wall, Mrs. I. W. Colburn, Megan O'Block, Lorraine Bressler, and Daria Petrilli Eckert. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Pierre Cardin, Woman's dress, 1969. Wool plain weave (crepe) and chrome; synthetic silk plain weave lining. 2005.7. Alice M. Bartlett Fund and Benjamin Pierce Cheney Fund. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
John Bates, Dress with sash, about 1975. Rayon, printed. 2011.2281.1 2. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Ossie Clark , Woman's dress, early 1970s. Printed silk plain weave (crepe). 2005.464. Textile Income Purchase Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Geoffrey Beene, Woman's evening dress: "Pollution Alert," 1972. Silk jersey and sequins. 2004.152. Gift of Mr. Geoffrey Beene. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Whiting & Davis Co., Woman's bathing suit in two parts, with headpiece, late 20th century. Metal mesh. 2009.4221, 2009.4222.1-2. Gift of Yolanda of Yolanda Enterprises Inc. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Zandra Rhodes, Dress, 1984. Tulle; silk plain weave (chiffon), printed; rhinestones; plastic (?); elastic. 2010.225.1. Gift of Judith Hurwitz Krupp. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Christian Lacroix, Dress, Spring 1987. Silk plain weave with embroidery; silk lace; tulle; silk plain weave; silk satin weave. 2010.387.1. William E. Nickerson Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gianni Versace, Cocktail dress, Spring/Summer 1992. Silk, beaded and embroidered. 2014.836.1. Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund, Frederick Brown Fund, and Frank M. and Mary T.B. Ferrin Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston