'In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection' at MET relooks at fashion history

The exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opens the world of fashion and design through garments and accessories.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Aug 19, 2020

In contemporary times, fashion and art could be said in the same breath as representations of aesthetic expression. As the arts moved beyond the territory of ecclesiast in the 19th century, to follow the triumvirate mode of production, representation, and consumption, fashion also was no more synonymous with the simplistic practice of clothing, but evolved as a concept of wearing a particular design at a definitive point of time in history. Bringing these sensibilities to the foreground is the exhibition In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection at Anna Wintour Costume Center, Tisch Gallery of The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gallery view, L’Esprit Nouveau: The Interwar Era | In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
Gallery view, L’Esprit Nouveau: The Interwar Era Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The exhibition curated by head curator Andrew Bolton; the curator-in-charge of The Costume Institute, Wendy Yu; associate curator Jessica Regan and assistant curator Mellissa Huber showcases 80 pieces of garments and accessories out of 165 promised gifts to the museums from the Sandy Schreier’s collection. Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), in a thick catalogue to the exhibition, calls Schreier Collection “as an appreciation of a form of creative expression”.

It was Edward Miller, Schreier’s father, who triggered her daughter’s interest in fashion. Working as a furrier in a Russeks Department Store in Detroit, Miller’s interaction with high-end clients of the city opened an opportunity for a young Schreier to understand the parallel between the worlds of art and fashion. Since the Sandy Schreier Collection runs over 15000 items, the well-thought curatorial strategies are put into practice to showcase the best of Sandy Schreier’s journey as a fashion historian. The associate curator, Jessica Regan, says, “Early on in planning this exhibition, Andrew asked Sandy what she hoped our visitors would come away with on seeing the show and Sandy answered that she wanted them to feel a sense of joy and wonder—the same feelings she experienced as she built her collection. As we organised the exhibition, we tried to capture that sense of joy and wonder, and convey the exceptional qualities of each of these objects and of the collection itself”.

  • ‘Evening Dress’, Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish, 1895–1972) for House of Balenciaga (French, founded 1937), summer 1961; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier  | In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
    Evening Dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish, 1895–1972) for House of Balenciaga (French, founded 1937), summer 1961; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Jacket, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Spanish, 1871–1949), 1920s–30s; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier| In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
    Jacket, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Spanish, 1871–1949), 1920s–30s; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Sandy’s collection is an expression of her extraordinary vision: her conception of fashion as an art form, even before many museums appreciated it that way; and her vision for her collection, which, unlike a museum’s, was deeply personal, guided by the connections she felt with each object. As they become part of the Costume Institute, these pieces gain new connections and resonance with the MET’s holdings, and allow us to tell a more nuanced narrative of the 20th century fashion history,” says Regan.

The first section of the exhibition is the eponym of the exhibition that builds on Schreier’s initial approach towards making her collection i.e. quest for beauty. French couture has had a long-lasting influence on the American taste of sartorial pleasure. With the works of the designers such as Pierre Balmain, Jean Dessès, Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior that saw unprecedented layers of technical finesse, this section highlights the key strength of Schreier’s collection, which is the post-war French couture. This section also takes into account how the Golden Age of Hollywood had caught Schreier’s attention for the longest time. The display including American designers Adrian, Valentina and Jessie Franklin Turner showcases amalgamation of a modern sensibility and glamour, which was singularly American.

Ensemble, Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria, 1936– 2008) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), spring/summer 1958; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier | In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
Ensemble, Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria, 1936– 2008) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), spring/summer 1958; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The second section “The Past Recaptured,” as the title suggests, includes the work of designers Mariano Fortuny and Maria Gallenga, whose works brought together the best of both the worlds historic and modern. The printed fabrics of the designer reflect upon Schreier’s childhood days when Detroit Institute of Arts, which she often visited, where the imagery of the collection of the paintings could be found as an artistic design on the textiles too.

Ensemble, Patrick Kelly (French, born America, 1954–1990), fall/winter 1988–89; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier | In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
Ensemble, Patrick Kelly (French, born America, 1954–1990), fall/winter 1988–89; Promised gift of Sandy Schreier Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The interwar years from the 1910s to 30s in the field of fashion witnessed the rise of splendid embellishments like embroideries and pleats along with lace and flower works. The section L’Esprit Nouveau with the works of women designers such as Madeleine Vionnet, Gabrielle Chanel, the Boué Soeurs, Jeanne Lanvin, and Elsa Schiaparelli is a tribute to the luxury of women wear that met the demands of the age: agility and comfort.

Gallery view, The Message is the Medium: Fashion That Speaks | In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | STIRworld
Gallery view, The Message is the Medium: Fashion That Speaks Image: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christian Francis Roth’s Breakfast Suit with fried egg and buttons as a yellow yolk is part of the last section ‘The Message is the Medium: Fashion that Speaks’ among other designers. The playful and expression designs of the section are on the lines of a storytelling technique that opens a possibility for a dialogue between the wearer and viewer.

Tapping into the pulse of her society, Schreier’s fashion collection of garment and accessories encapsulate the history spanning over six decades. Rightly, this exhibition lets the viewers take a leaf out of the pages of fashion art to marvel at the wonders of Schreier’s collection and experience a sheer joy.

In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection is on view till September 27, 2020, at The Met Fifth Avenue, Anna Wintour Costume Center.

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