"The Sea" Exhibit at Phoenix Art Museum

While in Phoenix for the Blogger Conference, I also had the opportunity to check out “The Sea”- an exhibit surrounding vintage fashion with emphasis on the ocean. The exhibit is being showcased at the Phoenix Art Museum until July 15th 2012. I had the chance to meet one-on-one with Dennita Sewell- the Curator of Fashion Design and she gave me a brief rundown of the fashion program and then went on to explain the different fashion groups within the exhibit. The Phoenix Art Museum fashion design program was launched in 1966 and currently has over five thousand pieces in the archives. “The Sea” exhibit contains over forty garments and some accessories that date back to the mid- 19th century to present. This exhibit was purposefully designed to be an oasis during the sweltering Phoenix summer months. Dennita explains that one of the goals of the exhibit is to bring awareness about the importance of the sea and man’s relationship with this natural resource that covers two-thirds of Earth.

There are three ‘groups’ of fashions, inspired by the sea, on display. One is “Playing at Sea,” which showcases different swimwear from mid- 19th century to present, as well as resort wear. I enjoyed seeing the swimwear from the early 1900s, as they were meant to cover the body. However, as times changed and so did womens rights, the suits were designed to show off more of the body. I saw Rudi Gernreich’s famous monokini. There was a graffiti-print swimsuit from Stephan Sprouse. Claire McCardell designed fab resort wear back in the 30s through 50s. Some of which were on display (and that I wish were still being sold today). The last piece of swim/resort wear were two suit/jacket combos by Karl Lagerfeld. He was inspired by 30s Riviera Glamor and of course Coco Chanel. One of the looks is a lovely suit paired with a tweed jacket, which was a custom order from a lady who didn’t want to lounge poolside with her dinner jacket. The next group consisted of the “Sailor” theme. Of course there were sailor suits on display, as well as the civilian sailor-inspired fashions as well. Back in the 1840s, Queen Victoria had her young son Edward painted in a sailor suit. It then became a trend among boys back then to wear a sailor suit. The grouping of the different outfits put emphasis on the military aspect of the sailor to the romance and sporting outfits worn in the earlier years and sometimes today. There was a glass case with several iconic sea-themed accessories, including 1970s Judith Leiber shell handbags. These were constructed out of real shell and were hand cast, then gold plated and had a brass lid. Yes, they also broke easily. Another accessory that is worth mentioning is a whale bone busk for corsets back in the 1800s. This was considered a Valentine’s Day gift for the woman from her sailor and was meant for her to wear close to her heart. The last group of fashion is “Mermaids and Pirates.” Included in that group was a pearl and underwater-inspired dress from Karl Lagerfeld’s current Spring 2012 collection. Another garment is a Christian Lacroix skirt inspired by the ancient Minoans and their vases. The skirt was paired with a sequin bustier and just looked stunning. Also on display was a piece by Pauline Trigere- who’s main inspiration is turtles. There was a shell inspired piece by Zandra Rhodes, an abstract to water printed garment by Pucci, Prada garment with seashell shaped sequins and a fragile, yet stunning 1860s watermarked silk suit. Watermarking is an old technique that is very luxurious and expensive. {Read more about the process on Wikipedia} Ungaro has a stunning mermaid-esque evening gown in the group, as well as Norell. Norell’s liquidy dress is constructed of 30,000 sequins that were hand sewn onto silk jersey. Lastly, Vivienne Westwood had designed some pirate-inspired dresses with off-kilter hemlines…that is well…uniquely Vivienne Westwood.

Huge thanks to Nicole for setting me up with Dennita. Dennita, thank you for giving me a personal tour of the exhibit! “The Sea” runs from March 3rd- July 15th 2012 in the Ellman Fashion Design Galley at Phoenix Art Museum.

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