[personal profile] sinister_sigils
February 26th, We went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the current exhibit, “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” which is a fascinating selection of designer fashions shown at the Ebony Fashion Fair during its run from 1958 through 2009. Consisting of over one hundred pieces curated by the Chicago Museum of History, the exhibit is a showcase of fashions designed for—and, increasingly, by—African Americans. http://mam.org/inspiring-beauty/

Occupying the exhibit space in the Calatrava wing, the show begins, fittingly, with a handsome blue suit worn by Eunice W. Johnson, editor of Ebony magazine, and founder of the Fashion Fair. It then segues into the fashion collections, opening with a 1972 Emanuel Ungaro ensemble of a red, blue, green and purple suede coat over a crocheted bodysuit, and thigh-high stockings. This was followed by a 1988 Christian LaCroix cocktail outfit in black and white, accented with a bold red scarf. Then, there was a black and red Pierre Cardin “pop art” patterned dress from 1970, and a 1978 Yves Sant-Laurent “Picasso” dress with a skirt of multi-colored satin swirls.

Time and space prohibit me from describing in detail all of the amazing outfits we saw. Just about every major designer you can think of was represented: Givenchy, Bob Mackie, Courreges, Paco Rabanne, Valentino, Bill Blass, de la Renta, Thierry Mugler, Patou, and many others. Common elements in many of the pieces were bold use of color, extensive application of beading and sequins, daring cuts, and accents such as fur and feathers, although there were some more subtle designs as well. Borrowing from non-Western cultures such as Moroccan, Chinese, and Japanese, was also evident.

Of course, fashion, as Georgie says, is an “extreme sport,” and some of the designs fell into that category: Bob Mackie, Sarli, and Naeem Khan produced “evening gowns” that were variations on the theme of strategically placed lace or beading on sheer net. There were mostly backless gowns, and others with interesting cut-outs. Others were extreme in different ways: the entirely sequin-covered man’s evening suit in salmon and lavender plaid (Guy Laroche, 1972) is certainly striking, but where would you wear it?

Among all the wonderful designs, of course there had to be a few clunkers, and Vivienne Westwood came up with two of the worst: one being an assymetrical lumpy brown “evening gown” that appeared to have been made out of a furniture cover with parts of the furniture still inside. Another outfit, in black, blue, and gray from the Mount Mary collection, consisted of a coat with an angular pattern, plaid pants, and a checked top. The coordinated colors and fabrics make it an ensemble, but otherwise the effect is “I dressed in the dark.”

The exhibit is tastefully arrayed on attractive mannequins of varied complexions, which works well. The exhibition catalog is one of the better I have seen, with full page pictures of all the outfits you most want pictures of, posed on live models.

The exhibit runs through May 3rd before moving on to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. (For compete tour schedule visit http://www.artsandartists.org/. If you can’t find a venue near you, the catalog can be ordered through the Milwaukee Art Museum store on line.

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