Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Schiaparelli and Seattle

Yesterday I returned from a trip to New York. I caught up with friends, attended a fantastic symposium about fashion and music (presented by students from my FIT program), and caught the new Costume Institute exhibition at the Met. Last year was the blockbuster Alexander McQueen show, and this year it is all about two female designers: Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Both are Italian, both use surrealist elements in their designs, and both exude general female awesomeness.

As per my calling in life, I need to make some sort of connection to Seattle. In this case, it actually isn't so hard. First of all, Seattle-based online juggernaut sponsored this year's exhibition, and CEO Jeff Bezos was one of the chairs of the Met Gala--one of the most star-studded fashion events of the entire year. Not everyone may consider Bezos a hometown hero but he has done at least two things right with his life: 1) given tons of money to the museum I work for and 2) orchestrated a scenario in which he gets his picture taken with Anna Wintour and Miuccia Prada. (Apparently it costs extra for them to look happy about it, but whatever. Cheers to you Mr. Bezos for making Nuclear Wintour bow down to your Seattle-based moxie.)

But the Seattle connections don't stop there. Thanks to another rich person with a fondness for museums, there are several Schiaparelli pieces in Seattle collections. Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff was a fabulous Seattle socialite who travelled to Paris to buy clothes. She donated her wardrobe partially to MOHAI and partially to the Henry Art Gallery. The Henry even has one of the trompe l'oeil sweaters responsible for launching Schiaparelli's career in the late 1920s (pictured at the top of this post). They also have this super cool suit:

MOHAI's collection includes a butterfly dress almost exactly like this one from the Met, only in with a slightly different neckline:

I don't have any evidence that Schiaparelli ever visited Seattle, but I do know she met one of my favorite Seattle fashion personalities. You know who I'm talking about: John Doyle Bishop.

In 1973 he made a big splash by showing up to the Spring Bill Blass fashion show with Schiaparelli on his arm. He also presented her with one of his signature "chicken wire" scarves, which she wore to the show.

I could stare at this picture all day.

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