NEW YORK – On the first Monday in May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute held the glamorous Met Gala, but on the first Friday in May, Sotheby’s expanded the conversation between fashion and art with a special panel discussion. A standing-room-only crowd came to our New York headquarters to discover fascinating connections between fashion and art from four experts: Sotheby’s Tiffany Dubin, Master Painting specialist Jonquil O’Reilly, Impressionist & Modern Art specialist Jeremiah Evarts and renowned Haute Couture expert Timothy Pope.
JEREMIAH EVARTS, TIFFANY DUBIN, TIMOTHY POPE AND JONQUIL O’REILLY. PHOTOGRAPH BY COLIN MILLER.
Pope kicked off the conversation with a discussion of Elsa Schiaparelli’s and Salvador Dalí’s close friendship. As leaders in fashion and art, the two collaborated often and propelled the Surrealist movement in the 1930s. Presented on mannequins were designs from the house of Schiaparelli’s most recent collections, which retain the artistic details and vibrant colour palette the brand is historically known for. “I thought it would add more resonance to the event if there were actual articles of couture here,” explained Pope, who arranged to have the garments sent from Paris. “You have so much Dalí in the sales, I thought, okay, this is crazy!”
Speaking to style and art in an earlier era, Evarts selected a few Impressionist & Modern pictures that foreground fashion. There was Picasso’s Buste d’homme lauré, in which the musketeer’s disjointed garments represent a wonderful collapsing of art history, Vuillard’s Marie brossant un vêtement à la fenêtre, an abstract celebration of textiles, depictions by Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso of elegant performers dressed as if they were attending a ball. Reflecting the Parisian night scene, the women were also “ladies of the evening,” which became a recurring theme of the conversation’s exploration of fashion in art.
LOOKS FROM SCHIAPARELLI'S AUTUMN/WINTER 2015–16 COUTURE COLLECTION IN SOTHEBY'S POP-UP LOUNGE.
PHOTOGRAPH BY COLIN MILLER.
Reminding us that the sartorial lines between such performers and “honest” women were blurred long before the 19th and 20th centuries, Jonquil O’Reilly discussed the symbolism of dress in Old Master portraits, including one of Elizabeth I from the 1600s and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. O’Reilly highlighted the Rothschild Metsu – a spectacular painting heading to auction this month whose subjects only appear to be modest. Upon closer inspection, the man’s and woman’s ensembles tell a more colourful story: a soldier wearing his best (precious metal embroidery and red stockings – red was an extremely expensive dye) stands with a prostitute wearing a radiant satin skirt with a stiff bodice and a fur trim.
As the panelists revealed, fashion connotes identity and is an incredible tool of historic reference – after all, as Pope suggested, designers always look back to look forward – Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix are a few inspired by historic references to 18th-century ladies of the evening, for example. Rounding out the talk, Pope reminded us how small the Haute Couture market is – only about 500 clients exist around the world today, the largest group being the US. With couture, the luxuries of privacy and service are expected, and the exquisite and historic craftsmanship must be conserved, just like a Picasso painting or a Metsu masterpiece.
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