We’ve had a wonderful series of lectures here at ATHM in conjunction with High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture. If you haven’t been able to attend any of the programs, you’ve really missed some wonderful presentations.
We also played host just recently to the Costume Society of America Region I meeting that featured High Style’s co-curator Kevin Jones and mount-maker Carolyn Jamerson. Members of CSA were all eager to hear Kevin’s behind-the-scenes story of the development of the exhibition and see how Carolyn designed and created the invisible forms used to display all the High Style dresses.
Kevin described how he and co-curator Christina Johnson worked with Mrs. Bloomingdale to develop the project and present the world of haute couture through Mrs. Bloomingdale’s donations to FIDM’s collection. He explained how different from today haute couture was when Mrs. Bloomingdale purchased her first dress in the early 1960s. Then, designers showed their collections in more private, intimate settings than today’s splashy, press-focused events. This exhibition, he explained, shows a world that no longer exists.
Anyone who has seen the exhibition has been impressed by the elegance of the presentation, and for good reason. We often struggle with how to show clothing. If you use mannequins, you get arms, legs, and heads, which make the body look more natural. But then you have to put hair on the head and shoes on the feet. If you use dress forms (torsos only), you can avoid having to worry about hairstyles, but you have to decide where to cut off the neck (never a pleasant thought). Carolyn Jamerson’s wonderfully invisible forms avoided all these problems because the plastic form she began with every time could be cut to match the outlines of each dress. The result is an absolutely clean look with the focus solely on the clothing displayed in the exhibition.
Carolyn also presented a new version of invisible mounts she’s developed using heavyweight felt. It’s an ingenious concept that is more archival than ordinary dress forms, quicker to make than traditionally carved Ethafoam bodies, and easily stored because they can be collapsed when not in use.
It was a perfect day. Well, almost. There were a few moments of terror when the digital projector wouldn’t turn on. But once we rebooted everything, that problem was resolved, and the rest of the day was spent enjoying our glimpse at the world of High Style with Betsy Bloomingdale.
Diane Fagan Affleck
Director of Interpretation