High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture

August 14, 2010 – January 2, 2011

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“The fact that my clothes were worn by Madame Bloomingdale was a pride because she wore them with so much elegance and a very special chic.”
–  Hubert de Givenchy

The fine art of French fashion comes to the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, with the opening of High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture. Organized by the FIDM Museum & Galleries at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, the exhibition examines the world of haute couture through 41 ensembles donated to the FIDM Museum by Betsy Bloomingdale, wife of department store heir and Diners Club credit card founder Alfred Bloomingdale, over the course of four decades.


Red evening gown of silk crêpe and organza adorned with flowers designed
by Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Autumn/Winter, 1989-90
Photo Credit: Brian Sanderson, FIDM Photography

The works of nine of Mrs. Bloomingdale’s favorite fashion designers are featured in the exhibition: Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Marc Bohan for Dior, James Galanos, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferré for Dior, André Courrèges, and Adolfo Sardiña, along with related accessories and ephemera. Supplementary materials include hand-drawn croquis (colored sketches with attached fabric swatches), photographs of Mrs. Bloomingdale at many international events (including the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer), as well as magazine layouts photographed by famed photographers illustrating garments she commissioned.

In addition to the exhibition, which will grace both the Stevens and Lowell Sun Charities galleries, ATHM will be offering a series of programs and events on the topic of high style and haute couture, including a lecture and workshop by High Style co-curator Kevin Jones, of FIDM Museum & Galleries in Los Angeles.

“We are absolutely thrilled to bring this incredible exhibition to the American Textile History Museum,” said ATHM President and CEO Jim Coleman. “In celebration of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, we wanted to give our visitors a ‘wow’ experience, and High Style delivers. Visitors will be treated to an incredibly exciting and unique foray into the personal world of one of America’s most celebrated and respected fashion icons.”

Mrs. Bloomingdale purchased French haute couture from 1961 to 1996. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalog and video documentary, which includes interviews with Mrs. Bloomingdale, Hubert de Givenchy, James Galanos, Adolfo Sardiña, François Lesage, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Bohan (House of Dior), and Kevin Jones (Curator, FIDM Museum), as well as Mrs. Bloomingdale’s granddaughters, Berry Bloomingdale Keller, Jane Bloomingdale Cisneros, and Hayley Bloomingdale.

FIDM Museum & Galleries’ Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson, co-curators of the exhibition, collaborated with Mrs. Bloomingdale to develop the exhibition as a means of educating, preserving, and celebrating the cultural significance of haute couture.

“We think of this exhibition as an homage to perfection since each haute couture garment is so fully realized,” according to Kevin Jones. “After being conceived by a master designer, artisans spend a minimum of 100 hours making each garment by hand; more than 800 to 1,000 hours for an elaborate gown.”

Christina Johnson adds, “Social and cultural history is well-served by the preservation of fashion. Preserving Mrs. Bloomingdale’s wonderful collection helps assure haute couture’s recognition as a fine art form. Her selection of couture held by the FIDM Museum will remain a testament to its twentieth-century creators, while inspiring young designers of today and tomorrow.”

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