This chapan robe, produced between 1860-1870, is not only a pristine illustration of the power of dye but also a visual reference point for more contemporary fashions, like the Oscar de la Renta trench coat below. Image source.
Fashion Week may be over, but there is still ample opportunity—and reason—to celebrate the power of design (in addition to some powerful designs).
One such opportunity to continue one’s fashion education is at the de Young museum where a newer exhibit, “To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color,” looks at the roots of particular aspects of design. Beyond information about the histories and uses of different dying processes, the exhibit provides a larger commentary on history and civilization’s influence on fashion and vice-versa.
The exhibit also illustrates the amount of work that goes into design. Beyond a garment’s initial conception and eventual construction, the steps of coloring are explored as well.
But this exhibit is not just a history lesson. There’s fashion too—and high fashion at that. To help make clear the dualism between fashion and culture, a handful of pieces demonstrating the use of dye were contrasted with other traditional, homemade pieces (like textiles, kimonos and ponchos) that never walked the runway.
Although this garment may be overwhelming at first, this piece is truly phenomenal in the complexity of the dye pattern. I imagine Grace Slick, one of the lead singers for psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, would be proud to wear this trench coat. Image source.
One such piece was an Oscar de la Renta trench coat from 2005. The garment is an exemplary illustration of the detailed process of dying as well as the wonderfully zany and avant-garde creations that can result. The de la Rentatrench coat is hippie fashionable but also references cultures that viewed clothing more as a matter of practicality rather than as an artistic commodity. Resting next to some more traditional textiles and a series of boards outlining different dying techniques, the de la Renta piece greets viewers at the entrance of the exhibit.
Liz Goldwyn wears the Rodarte gown on display at the exhibit. It may be a little bit messy, but the overall style of the dress is whimsical, both in design and in color. Image source.
Another wonderful garment in the exhibit comes from Rodarte. The dress—a cohesive visual accomplishment of ballerina meets Eloise in Paris meets Grecian goddess—is an example of pain-staking yet high quality hand-dying. While the construction of the dress is masterful, especially with knot play in the back of the garment, it is really the spectacular coloration of this piece that makes it noteworthy.
While the garments of runways past are particularly appealing, the other pieces on display in the exhibit have just as fine craftsmanship.
A marriage of fashion and culture, product and process, this exhibit at the de Young not only demonstrates that fashion is an art form but, perhaps less obviously to the normal trend-follower, that fashion is also a tangible synthesis of cultural (and individual) tradition. The exhibit forces individuals to consider where fashion comes from and what fashion means. This message is not only insightful to the general public, but also to those who consider fashion to be a fundamental part of their daily life.
The “To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color” exhibit opened July 31 and will stay at the museum until January 9, 2011. A general admission ticket ($6 for college students with a valid ID) allows attendees to see this exhibition and many others (special exhibition fees excluded).