Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Exhibition Review: 200 Years of Fashion in Saratoga Springs

While visiting a friend in Saratoga Springs, New York, I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across the local Historic Society and their delightful museum collection. The permanent display houses exquisitely kept examples of costume dating to the early 19th century, including several original Worth gowns. But it was the 200 Years of Fashion in Saratoga Springs exhibit that truly caught my eye and made me proud as well as excited to be a museum studies student.

Housed in the former Canfield Casino (built in 1870, no longer a working casino but displays beautiful casino artifacts, for those interested in that field of study), the Historic Society of Saratoga utilizes their space wonderfully for temporary exhibition. A walk up to the second floor landing puts you face to face with three generations of Saratoga dress: 1809, 1909 and 2009 welcome you to the exhibit to your right...(READ MORE)

Upon entering the space, one is taken aback by the incredibly creative exhibition design. Examples of costume flood the eyes in all directions; hats and accessories placed on shelves and in display cases make guests feel as though they are window shopping in an old-fashioned department store. Antique coats and dresses hand on a circular clothing rack, next to a mannequin glancing at herself in a three-way mirror. The layout of the space does not include barriers, and guests are invited to examine objects close up; visitors are encouraged to become lovingly intimate with the past.

Mannequins are henceforth placed on settees or surrounded by period furniture, providing excellently sourced exposition for each costume. Visitors are invited to seat themselves on brocaded couches and take in the atmosphere.

The only concern of the exhibit is its openness and lack of security. Perhaps it is because I am a museum studies graduate student recently exposed to the throws of object handling, but my most active thought was, “How do they keep people from touching the costumes?” Barrier systems not only keep people out, but also keep harmful objects from coming in, becoming a conservation as well as safety issue. Each piece is so immaculate as it is, it would be such a pity for something to go awry or to be stolen because of such a unique setup.

Featured objects include a Delphos pleated Fortuny gown, an Emilio Pucci dress suit and several Dior evening ensembles. Every piece is representative of Saratoga’s rich socialite history, and those not belonging to the Society’s collection are on loan from supporting institutions or Saratoga residents themselves. The exit hallway is lined with dresses from famous Saratogians, such as Julie Bonacio and Michelle Riggi.

Curator Michael B. Levinson, Director of Empire Historic Arts, does a wonderful job setting the mood for a fashion-focused exhibition. “He is very creative,” remarked a docent at the museum. “For the next exhibit, he hopes to incorporate smells somehow.” It will be interesting - and innovative - to see how that turns out.

Photos property of The Fashion Culturist