Curious Trends

22/03/2011

Immortalization through fashion



Fashion is becoming ever more accepted as an art form and now sits comfortably alongside other works of design art in museums and galleries. Until recently, exhibitions dedicated to clothing have either tended to focus upon historical costume, presented by age, in chronological order – or have been curated selections of items by a renowned designer, like the Versace or Vivienne Westwood exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum, or the Vionnet show at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Lately, we’ve begun to see collections of clothing belonging to individuals on display – like the exhibition of Princess Diana’s clothes at Kensington Palace and the Grace Kelly Style Icon show at the V&A. The people whose clothes are put on show are generally famous or dead – usually both. However, this is likely to change in the future, as more of us look to find ways to be remembered.  In years to come, what  the contents of our wardrobe and our taste in fashion say about us, and the stories our clothes tell of our lives, will have greatly added significance.


This curious trend is linked to the new age of collecting and wanting to be immortalized for our unique sense of style and taste – in much the same way as the great collectors of art and cabinets of curiosity were in the past. The renewed interest in collecting has led to a growth in demand for vintage clothing and retro accessories. Occasionally, specialist auction houses like Kerry Taylor in London will sell complete or partial wardrobes belonging to collectors, like Daphne Guinness - or of the deceased (Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn). When Isabella Blow died, a collection of her outfits and hats, due to be auctioned at Chrisites, was purchased in toto by Daphne Guinness via a private sale.

Some are consciously creating a fashion legacy to leave behind for future generations. Fashion designer Zandra Rhodes has already established her own Museum of Fashion and Textiles in London’s Bermondsey, but has also amassed a huge collection of her designs, which she hopes will be put on public display when she dies.

You don’t have to be a designer to create a fashion legacy - depending on how long the technology lasts, this may simply involve putting together an online record of your wardrobe and/or taste in clothes through blogs and websites. However, to assemble an internationally esteemed fashion collection requires money, individuality and flair:

You may not have heard of Ann Bonfoey Taylor this side of the pond. A Denver-born socialite, she was a keen sportswoman and Vogue model in the 1930s, and died four years ago, aged 98. A new gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum opened a couple of weeks ago, and its first show consists of more than 60 outfits from Taylor’s wardrobe, generously donated by her son.

“Ann Bonfoey Taylor was beautiful, fashionable, intelligent, fun and a marvellous hostess, who entertained friends, family and international dignitaries,” said Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion design at the Phoenix Art Museum. “She was also an Olympic skier, championship tennis player, licensed pilot, flight instructor during World War II, successful skiwear designer and a skilled sportswoman.”

Throughout her life, Bonfoey also demonstrated exceptional taste in clothes: her original style was classic and sophisticated, but she possessed unique flair. She modelled and was regularly interviewed for fashion and lifestyle magazines from the 1930s to the 1970s and, during that time, she commissioned a custom-made wardrobe of day and evening by the some of the foremost 20th-century designers.

The exhibition Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor at the Phoenix Art Museum, includes items by Balenciaga, Givenchy, Gres, Fortuny and other leading couture designers, as well as Taylor’s own unique designs.
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