Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Vintage Fashion Tour

by Nancy DeWitt, Historian

Barb Cerny, our Vintage Fashion Curator, and I traveled to Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Our goal was to visit several fashion exhibits and hopefully come away with some new ideas, tips and inspiration for the Fountainhead Museum.

Our first stop was the Fashion Institute for Design & Merchandising, a private college with a museum and galleries open to the public. The fashions in their Re-Designing History exhibit were stunning, and the private tour of FIDM from Meghan Hansen was especially enlightening. She gave us a lot of tips on mannequins and storage, display and labeling of vintage garments. We especially loved the hair styles FIDM makes for their mannequins using drawing paper (!). Barb and I are pretty sure we won't be able to make similar hairdos for our own mannequins, but it might be fun to try to on some long winter evening.

Next up was the Petersen Automotive Museum to see the highly acclaimed Automotivated exhibit. This display highlights the parallels between early cars and clothing design, progressing from functional wear for open-air motoring to the graceful lines of cars and dresses of the 1930s. It's amazing to think that wealthy connoisseurs would collaborate with coachbuilders and couturiers to coordinate their fashions and automobiles!

Automotivated focuses on a similar theme we are working toward at the Fountainhead Museum with our vintage clothing, so this was a very interesting and informative visit for us. We owe special thanks to Museum Curator Leslie Kendall for the personalized tour, including a special trip into the basement to see the many cool cars they have in storage.

Our final stop was the L.A. County Museum of Art to see their Fashioning Fashion exhibit. Holy moly, the historic European clothing on display was incredible! I loved how they displayed corseted, bustled and or hoop-skirted mannequins alongside fully clothed ones to illustrate how the silhouettes were achieved. The descriptions for each outfit and the information about textile details were also excellent. Barb and I left LACMA with more ideas, not to mention a desire to acquire even more historic outfits for the Fountainhead Museum. All in all, a great trip!


  1. Wow, Nancy. I think I am turning green. So wish I could have been there.

    I do think the paper hairstyles are amazing ~ and I think you can do it, too. Would certainly be fun to try.

    So, did the coutouriers and auto makers actually collaborate, or was the interaction more organic ~ style follows need?

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. Kristin, I think the overall trend in streamlining was a more organic interaction, but there were cases of direct collaboration. This was made easier by the fact that many luxury cars were designed by the buyer. One started with a bare chassis and then selected the body style, colors, trim, interior fabrics, etc. to suit one's tastes. This paragraph from the Petersen Museum's website shows just how far some went to coordinate their clothing with the cars:

    "For the ultimate effect, wealthy connoisseurs would collaborate with French couturiers, automakers, and coachbuilders to create perfectly matching ensembles. Even Chanel met with exclusive coachbuilders like Joseph Figoni to formulate matching automobile and fashion ensembles for a select few clients. Well heeled patrons often had long lunches in exclusive hotel restaurants with their coachbuilders and couturiers to order coordinating fashion and automobile ensembles to be debuted at prestigious parties or high profile events such as a concours d’elegance. At most of these organized events, entries were judged according to how well the automobiles went with the wearer’s fashion ensembles. Vivid colors used in strong contrast and in harmony emphasized line and form in both fashion and automobile design. That the two were interlinked was made evident in magazine advertisements and editorials where both the cars and fashions were described in feminine terms of shape, form and effect."

    Back then, many considered their car the final layer of clothing, so I guess it made sense to coordinate your wardrobe with it. Times have sure changed! ~ Nancy


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