Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Inspiration at the Museum

This past weekend offered the opportunity for free museum passes, so we went to the Phoenix Art Museum to see what was new since our last visit in September. We looked at some photos and a lot of southwestern paintings, but I purposely left the Fashion Gallery until the end, knowing I would be there for a long time. Once I got in there, I almost couldn’t leave.

The current fashion exhibit is “Modern Spirit – Fashion of the 1920s.” Where do I even begin to describe this incredible collection? The colors! Yes, the colors. Surprisingly subdued, the colors in the room were mostly earthtones. Rust, camel, salmon-peach, black, and ivory made up the majority. There were also a few dusky versions of jewel tones like jade and plum, and dark blue appeared once in evening wear and once in a suit. A brilliant scarlet red was the exception to all this restraint, and it stood out in several areas of the exhibit. 
Although no photos were allowed in the museum, many of the exhibit pieces are from the Arizona Costume Institute, and these images are from their online gallery.
1928 dresses
The textiles were utterly amazing. Each piece was dripping with embroidery, beading, ruffles, rhinestones, or sequins. Several of the dresses were covered with thousands of glass beads individually sewn onto silk tulle or lace. How does the fabric bear that weight? How does the garment survive 90 years?
Three evening dresses by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. 1928, 1925, 1925.

One of the most luxurious-looking effects was the voluminous, gathered and rolled velvet collars of the evening coats, which were shaped very much like the Poiret cocoon coat. Even the velvet was embellished with beads and embroidery, and in one case, fur.
Folkwear Pattern 503, The Poiret Cocoon Coat. Source

I could go on and on, but without photos, I feel I can’t really do justice to the other pieces.

I will leave you with the last one that I do have a picture of, which was the simplest design, and also my favorite. It’s a Vionnet, of red silk crepe chiffon. The narrow silver edging is a lamé binding. For the sewists reading this, can you imagine trying to stitch a long strip of lamé to a fluttery, tissue-thin expanse of silk, on the bias, without snagging, tearing, shifting, or even creating the tiniest hole?
The epitome of elegance
A history of Madeleine Vionnet and her design techniques that we still use today is here. Also, Coletterie did a nice writeup on Vionnet here.

I was very inspired by my visit. I won't be sewing up any 20s-style evening gowns, but it certainly boosted my creativity.

What has been your source of creative inspiration lately?


all photos from the Arizona Costume Institute, http://www.arizonacostumeinstitute.com/ACI/The_Collection.html


  1. That looks like a wonderful exhibition. I agree, that red dress is amazing and certainly far beyond my sewing skills.

    The internet continues to be my main source of inspiration - sewing/knitting blogs a lot of the time. Oh, to be near the big museums, we miss them here in "the sticks".

    1. We've got a pretty good situation here: about 15 minutes away from the arts district, plus it is nearly empty on weekends. Works for me!

  2. Gorgeous! You are right: the colors and fabrics are just amazing. The sad thing is, I can't imagine a museum of the future containing ANY of the clothes that I've seen in stores lately.....

    1. That gave me a laugh! "Hoodie, Abercrombie & Fitch, circa 2005."
      The question of "art" aside, none of today's manufactured garments seems to last more than a few years. Pitiful.

  3. It's a shame sometimes, that museums don't allow photos. I say, share the beauty! I always ask, when in a store, if it's okay to take photos - and most people say yes, Some are enthusiastic. And I always wonder about those who say no. I think that selfish kind of hoarding mentality comes back to you. Why not share? Why live in fear that someone will copy or, I don't know what the fear is. Anyway - I can see the appeal and beautiful garments from your pics - but I know how someone like you, and us, who appreciate textiles and beading and details and perfection would love to capture those closer. Yes - the red dress is exquisite!
    Where am I finding inspiration lately? At nurseries - the plant and live greens and mistletoe and lilies and garlands and Christmas tree kind of nurseries. Especially those that have some decorated trees too. I could wander for hours. The smells! The sights! The visions of sugarplums...

    1. Yes, I've run into that at restriction at art fairs as well. I think the artists are trying to protect their ideas, but wouldn't they want their creations to get more exposure, rather than less? I guess each person has a different perspective on it.
      Nurseries are wonderfully inpiring! Sometimes I think I want to get 20 trees and fill my house with elaborate decorations! Probably I should stay away from that particular source of inspiration. :)