SALEM – In Abigail Adams’ timeless words, the Peabody Essex Museum “remembers the women” who revolutionized women’s fashion over the past 250 years in an ambitious and extensive new exhibition.
“Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion,” which runs now until March 14, is a transatlantic production in partnership with Peabody Essex Museum and Kunstmuseum den Haag from the Netherlands. Child of brains Petra Slinkard, Fashion and Textiles Curator Nancy B. Putnam of PEM, the exhibition begins when she sees an Instagram post about an original 2016 exhibition featuring a female designer at the Haag museum, “Femmes Fatale”.
Curated from the museum’s second collection, a 112-part, five-part, retrospective of 250 years plus loans from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and local private collectors.
In virtual preview, organizers on both sides of the Atlantic talk about the challenges and goals of the exhibition, especially during the pandemic, which delayed its original opening date in May.
The words “handle with care” take on a whole new meaning when you talk about the extreme fragility of fabrics, stitches, stitches and embroidery dating back to the mid-18th century. The packing, transporting and fitting of such a movable fashion party is, in itself, a feat. Then there is a lot of research that goes into the enlightening biographies of the individual designers who accompany and contextualize their ensembles.
Local fashionistas will find among silk, chamois, gilt, glitter, drape and dazzle, stunning ensembles by icons such as Chanel, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Trigere, Carnegie, Prada, Koran and Kamali.
But they’ll also find lost treasure, particularly Elizabeth Kinkley, a mid-19th century black woman who bought her way out of slavery and turned her gifted needle into a coutur, dressing up regal women in Washington, DC, society, especially. among them, Mary Todd Lincoln’s friend.
The range of collections is extraordinary, as are the clothes. But it is how history is contextualized with the accompaniment of well-researched texts that makes this show truly educational. If, as Louis IV of France put it, “Fashion is a mirror of history,” then this exhibition manages to capture the historical evolution of not only fashion, but of women themselves.
For starters, the absence of male designers shifts the focus not only to the fact that the heartbeat of the industry has always been women, but how female designers have gotten so good at beating men where it counts – not in the haute couture salons in Paris, but in the real world.
Basically, the word couturier translates to tailor, and tailors are traditionally women. At PEM, the show has been installed to give audiences a close, personal and highly tactile experience of the exquisite arts and crafts of the countless anonymous cast of seamstresses who hail from the mid-18th century European courts, where high fashion resides the theater height and a declaration of wealth and social status.
But once this show pays homage to those European roots, it moves swiftly through decades of corsets, bustiers, hustle and bustle, and ruffles until 1849, when Fredrick Worth, a man – and an English to boot – is credited with creating French couture. The names of the couture houses that followed her footsteps belonged to men, and women became slaves to fashion tying their bodies to the impossible ideal of male feminine perfection.
Then, as the 19th century gave way to a long, hard struggle for 19th Amendment rights, the 19-inch waist gave way to newly freed women and newly freed wardrobes.
World War I played an unconscious role in this. When men go to war, women go to work, and the work they do demands clothing that is practical, functional, and comfortable. As fabrics became scarce, clothes had to be simplified and shorter. On to the plate, with its new minimalism, came Coco Chanel. A visionary of style, Chanel experimented with cheaper, more readily available, and more flexible fabrics, such as jerseys. And the revolution continues.
In her iconic little black dress and classic suit, Chanel is launching fashion forward into a future that will in time see a new generation of women on both sides of the Atlantic, who, rather than looking couture, look out over the street, at work. , gyms, yoga studios and jogging trails to dress up 21st century women.
“As this exhibition passionately affirms, fashion represents a lot more: from defining cultural moments and advancing political goals, to profoundly influencing the global economy and ecology,” said Slinkard.
The core problem? the trouser suit worn by Kamala Harris when she delivered her acceptance speech as the first female vice president. As a tribute to early 20th century suffrage, it was expressed in their choice of “white battle gowns”.
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at [email protected]
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Succeeded: Women Who Revolutionized Fashion,” showcases more than 100 works over 250 years that recognize the often-overlooked contributions of women in the fashion and design industries.
WHERE: Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., Salem
WHEN: Now until March 14, 2021
TICKETS: Adults $ 20, seniors (65 and over) $ 18, students with ID $ 12, ages 16 and under and residents of Salem free; reservation is required in advance due to COVID-19 restrictions on www.pem.org/tickets or 978-542-1511.
MUSEUM HOURS: Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm
MORE INFO: www.pem.org