Review: High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture

Evening Gown, Label: Christian Dior, Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Autumn-Winter 1989-1990, Silk Crepe, Silk Organza. Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale. FIDM Museum Collection. 2006.116.113 Photo Credit: Brian Sanderson, FIDM Photography

Betsy Bloomingdale rose to fashion fame in 1964 when she appeared on the “Empress of Fashion” Eleanor Lambert’s Best Dressed List. Noted again in 1968 and inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1970, Bloomingdale collected haute couture fashion for more than 30 years, in the process redefining style in America. Widow to Alfred Bloomingdale, once heir to the Bloomingdale empire and a principal founder of the Diner’s Club credit card, Mrs. Bloomingdale’s enduring sense of style is the subject of a new exhibition at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Curated by the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture (in Lowell from August 14, 2010 – January 2, 2011) illustrates Mrs. Bloomingdale’s passion for the most exquisitely crafted garments by her favorite fashion designers. The creations of Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, James Galanos for Amelia Gray, Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior and Oscar de la Renta among many other designers are all beautifully presented in this exhibition.

“Who are you wearing?” is the famous question we hear a hundred times over at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. As a celebrity obsessed culture, we’re interested in what stars like Nicole Kidman (who professes her love for the creations of Balenciaga), Sarah Jessica Parker or Charlize Theron are wearing. The art and science of haute couture extends beyond the red carpet. In 1868 Charles Frederick Worth founded the Chambre de la Haute Couture, the labor organization that forever changed the world of high fashion.

Evening Dress, Label: Givenchy, Hubert de Givenchy, Autumn-Winter 1968-1969, Silk Velvet, Cockerel feathers. Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale. FIDM Museum Collection. 77.116.14

A trademarked term, haute couture can legally and only be used to describe garments made by official members of the Chambre Syndicale. These members must follow very strict rules and produce garments of the highest quality and made of luxurious and expensive materials. If this doesn’t sound daunting enough, workrooms must be located in Paris and each house must employ a minimum of 20 seamstresses. Each house is also required to have a private clientele which today consists of approximately 200 clients worldwide (that’s a combined total, a shocking number which alludes to the price of each gown!).

Each garment, which takes an average of about 300 to 1,000 hours to create, is made by hand and fitted to the client’s measurements. The finished piece is truly a breathtaking work of art.

The pieces part of the exhibition are accompanied by gorgeous hand drawn sketches and photographs of Mrs. Bloomingdale wearing her creations to high profile events like the wedding of Princess Diana and dinners at the White House.

The catalog for the exhibition is disappointing, it is very expensive for its size and does not do any justice to the pieces in the show.

My favorite pieces in the exhibition include an evening gown (2003) executed in red iridescent taffeta with vertical ruffles on the lower half by Oscar de la Renta as well as an evening dress (1968-1969) by Hubert de Givenchy made of silk velvet with cockerel feathers (pictured in this post).

Evening Gown, Label: Christian Dior, Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Autumn-Winter 1989-1990, Silk Crepe, Silk Organza. Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale. FIDM Museum Collection. 2006.116.113 Detail.

The gowns in the exhibition tell the story of Betsy Bloomingdale and her passion for haute couture. Mrs. Bloomingdale created a personal style which has transcended and endured the test of time, further shedding light on Coco Chanel’s famous quote “fashion fades, only style remains the same.” This exhibition at the American Textile History Museum is NOT TO BE MISSED.

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2 Comments

  1. My Blogging Year: 2010 in Review « The Evolving Critic
  2. Scaasi: American Couturier « The Evolving Critic

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