Haute couture with a side of Augmented Reality:  A Century of San Francisco Style at the de Young

While the exhibit is centered around historical fashion, it also showcased more contemporary pieces, like
Edwin Oudshoorn’s Spring/Summer 2020 Spellbound gown with detached sleeves and pin. Photo by Samantha Elina Graham/SF Foghorn. According to the SF Museum of Fine Arts’ Textile and Conservation Lab, each of the tens of thousands of sequins seen on the Dior “Venus” gown (seen above) are individually swabbed as part of their conservation practice. Photo by Samantha Elina Graham/SF Foghorn

The recognizably dreamy notes of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” played as viewers gazed upon mannequins modeling a range of designs in the de Young museum’s latest exhibition, “Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style.”

This exhibition explores the evolution of women’s fashion in San Francisco by highlighting legendary collections and designers of the 20th and 21st centuries. According to their website, this is the museum’s “first major presentation of [their] costume collection in over 35 years.” In addition to Christian Dior, Comme des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood, more than fifty designers’ works are on display — for many pieces, this is their first showing.

“‘Fashioning San Francisco’ is a rich presentation that asserts the case that San Francisco does, and has always had, style,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in a press release

The exhibit also collaborated with Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., to invite viewers to use augmented reality (AR) to see themselves in this historical legacy.  

Greeting visitors as they entered the room, a mannequin was dressed in Jeanne Lanvin’s “Veilleur de Nuit” evening gown of the Spring/Summer 1924 collection. With a dropped waist and a full, calf-hitting skirt evocative of the 18th century, this hundred-year-old “robe de style” has a silhouette Lanvin popularized in the 1920s. 

Further down the narrow halls of the exhibit is a room devoted entirely to shoes. From the 1998 patent Prada Mary Janes, to Rei Kawakubo’s embroidered leather “Cut Out Cowboy” design from the 1999 Fall/Winter collection, many styles have once graced the streets of San Francisco. 

The main exhibition wing featured styles ranging from experimental clothing to suitwear, including Richard Tam’s ostrich-feather headdress, mask and fan that accompanied a printed paisley silk Valentino evening gown, and a honeycomb inspired jacket designed by Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garçons in 2015. 

Many of these pieces were gifted to the museum by San Francisco philanthropists and fashionistas. Christine Suppes, author and founder of digital couture publication Fashionlines, donated more than 500 articles of clothing to the museum. Suppes wore many of the ensembles to black-tie galas and balls.

“‘Junon’ and ‘Venus’, the two Dior ball gowns, stood out to me for sure,” said junior media studies student Alley Garland, whose interest in high fashion brought her to the exhibition. “They were absolutely stunning and it was incredible to look at all of the beading and detail gone into every part of each dress.” These pieces were found in the formalwear section, among other couture gowns by the likes of John Galliano for Christian Dior and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. 

Outside of the main showing room was a wing dedicated to the “Little Black Dress” design, known in the fashion world as a staple in a woman’s wardrobe. The term now suits a range of styles, as seen by the distinctive and unique dresses on display, including the black silk velvet “Soirée de Paris” gown designed by Yves Saint Laurent while he worked for Christian Dior. This gown was available to virtually try on in the exhibit’s special augmented reality (AR) room post-exhibition viewing.

Similar to how Snapchat filters work, a viewer could stand in front of one of three mirrors and  virtually try on three iconic designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Kaisik Wong and Valentino. The real works were all on display upstairs, but this installation gave museum-goers the opportunity to snap a photo in a designer gown. 

Junior media studies student Ella Brohm said “I  thought the [AR]  was kind of a weird addition.” On the other hand, Garland enjoyed the installation. “The AR experience was so fun! It was a little silly but my sister and I laughed the whole time and took a bunch of photos,” she said.“ I thought it was nicely done and it actually looked like we were wearing the clothing. It’s definitely the closest I’ll ever get to wearing haute couture.”

“I hope visitors see the impact that women’s fashion has had on society,” Garland continued. “You can see the evolution of fashion simply through the complexity, form and use of color in them. Fashion is a huge part of expression and these designers capture a wide range of femininity that is really neat.” 

Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style is on display at the de Young museum through August 11. Tickets can be purchased on the museum’s website, students can get a discounted ticket with valid student ID. 

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Scene Editor: Inés Ventura

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