Walking into Bullock Texas State History Museum is always a thrill for me. I get chills just thinking about all of the history held within the walls of the building.
As a self-proclaimed fashionista, I’m extremely excited about Bullock Museum’s newest exhibition, called “Fashion Forward.” Not only does it feature pieces from renowned designers, but they are all from an annual award ceremony that put Texas on the map for fashion.
What Is Fashion Forward?
“Fashion Forward” guides museum visitors through several decades of clothing trends. All of the featured designers “earned the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion from the Dallas-based luxury department store.”
Associate Curator Angie Glasker told me this award could be considered the Oscar of fashion. The distinction was presented annually by Stanley Marcus, usually to several individuals, from the 1940s to 1980s. The awards were given to those who were significantly impacting fashion. Style icons and celebrities could also win–not just designers.
One of the requirements for receiving the Neiman Marcus Award was the recipient had to travel to Dallas to get it. This requirement put Texas on the map as a center of fashion in the 20th century.
The Bullock exhibition features pieces from designers such as Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Missoni, Hanae Mori, and others. All of the outfits come from the Texas Fashion Collection at The University of North Texas, which is one of the most significant fashion archives in the United States.
The Trends of Time
As soon as visitors walk into the exhibition, they’re greeted by an opulent and beautiful Valentino ball gown shown at the Neiman Marcus 100th Anniversary Gala in 2007. It’s a showstopper–and just a taste of what’s to follow.
The exhibition then takes visitors through a series of themes, broken down into six sections. Not only are several pieces on display throughout the room, but a variety of large-scale photographs and sketches, as well as tactile interactives, are visible to provide depth to the fashion journey.
1/ American Designers in the ’30s and ’40s
The first section of the exhibition covers American designers in the 1930s and 1940s. Before World War II, high fashion was haute couture: custom pieces designed by hand in Paris.
During the war, the focus in fashion moved from high fashion to separate pieces, and comfort (a sweet goodbye to those restricting corsets!).
Claire McCardell and Clare Potter are two of the designers featured in this section.
2/ Rebirth of French Haute Couture
After World War II, haute couture began to make a comeback. One of the pieces in this collection was designed by Yves Saint-Laurent for the House of Dior. While beautiful, it faced some feminist backlash at the time because it moved fashion from comfort back into a restricting design.
There are also pieces on display from Coco Chanel and Jacques Fath.
3/ American Designers of the ’60s and ’70s
This part of the exhibition shows pieces from American designers who were going international for “exotic” inspiration. Glasker explained it to me as cultural appropriation before its time.
A piece from Oscar de la Renta mimicked rich brocades from Indian designers, while another piece from Anne Klein was inspired by Turkish rugs.
Another key takeaway from this section is women were going into the workforce at the time, and fashion was evolving to meet those changes.
4/ Italian Designers of the ’60s and ’70s
The next section is completely dedicated to some of the most influential Italian designers of the 1960s and 1970s. At this time in history, Italy hadn’t been a focal point of fashion for hundreds of years. Italian designers were pulling materials from fashion houses that specialized in a certain type of material, such as velvet or silk.
One of my favorite facts from this section of the exhibit is the influence Marcus had on designers. Emilio Pucci, who was known as “the impoverished nobleman,” showed Marcus some of the scarves he was making at the time. Marcus recommended making them into simple dresses instead–and that became what Pucci was known for.
5/ Japanese Designers of the ’70s and ’80s
The last section of the main space shows how the idea of fashion is broadening and moving even more global. We see the Neiman Marcus Awards becoming diverse, with the first Asian recipients.
The two Japanese designers featured in this section, Hanae Morae and Issey Miyake, played with form and function in relation to how these components work with a body’s shape. Their work ultimately made Western designers rethink high fashion.
6/ Moda Futura
The exhibition finally takes you into a side room called “Moda Futura.” There are several pieces in the room, including a suit Stanley Marcus wore to the annual Neiman Marcus parties, called Fortnight.
You’ll also find an itinerary for Fashion Exposition Weekend that may have been sent to Coco Chanel herself.
Playing With Fabrics at Bullock Museum
Inside the Moda Futura rooms are several tactile interactives. There is a wall of infographics, complete with textile displays you can touch to feel the different types of materials.
My favorite part of the interactives, however, is a station set up with pieces of material you can put on mannequins, to see how they work and look together. This station allows visitors to get a better feel for what types of materials are easier to work with, and what requires more work to use in an outfit. You can also just have fun with fabrics!
The “Fashion Forward” exhibition runs through April 12, 2020. You can learn more about “Fashion Forward” and other Bullock Museum exhibits on the museum’s official website.
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@theAustinot wants to know:
What’s your favorite exhibit, past or present, at Bullock Museum?