[School bell rings]
All right, class! Pay attention, please! We are going to have a presentation today. Allison will come up to tell us about a field trip she recently took, and she has brought several pictures as well. Allison, if you please?
Thank you, teacher. On Saturday March 28, I headed East to Milwaukee to see an event at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Well, two events, actually, and I’ll tell you about them in a little bit. Let me start by saying I won museum tickets through here, and let me just say, the congratulations/thank you note included with the tickets was so cute (and the person who wrote it has the cutest penmanship). This was my very first visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is situated downtown on Milwaukee’s lakefront and is composed of three main buildings, the most impressive of which (and the one that had last weekend’s exhibitions) is the Quadracci Pavilion, a building designed by Santiago Calatrava and open since 2001; its signature is a winged brise soleil (that’s French for “sun breaker”) that can open or close within 3.5 minutes. (That’s right, folks, Miller Park isn’t the only building in Milwaukee where the covering moves.) Even when approaching its entrance via the walkway over Lincoln Memorial Drive, as evidenced in the photo at right, the Pavilion is such an amazing sight.
The Quadracci Pavilion is used for special public events, concerts, weddings, receptions, a cafe, gift shop, and, naturally, Milwaukee Art Museum exhibitions; the latter is more necessary than usual right now since the Museum’s other buildings are currently undergoing renovations, forcing some of their collections to either be moved temporarily to the Pavilion or just held off limits while the renovations are in progress. The Quadracci Pavilion has also had starring roles in various film, television, and advertising roles, perhaps most notably in the motion picture Transformers: Dark of the Moon, where it served as a showroom for Patrick Dempsey’s character to show off his classic car collection.
But, okay, you’re saying, please tell us about the event! Well, as noted above, there were two events at the Art Museum, one held just during the weekend I attended and another that is still ongoing as this is being written. The former of the two events was Beauty in Bloom: A Tribute to Fashion and Flowers, which combined fashion and beauty with the designs of floral artists from throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. The floral installations were inspired by the fashions exhibited in the second of the two events, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, which I’ll get into a little further later. Simply put, each floral display corresponded with one outfit on display at Inspiring Beauty, with a photo of the inspiring outfit stationed underneath each display. The inspiration shone in some displays more obviously than others, but each display brought out a lovely splash of spring. I will highlight some of the displays here, beginning with this bouquet inspired by a Vivienne Westwood ball gown. The hues of the flowers and flowing black ribbons match nicely with, as the designers’ statement puts it, the “riot of complex color and… playful… lines and movement” exhibited on the gown.
A Todd Oldham evening dress inspired this next floral design. The display captures the color and femininity of the dress, as well as its shape (it was designed for a shapelier model). The flowers and ribbons of the display look lovely both in front and in back.
The fishnet stylings of a Sarli-designed evening dress inspired this display, an early favorite of mine. The display has quite a figure (check out the curves on the vase), while the netted hosiery creates obvious sex appeal.
The designer of this next display wanted to capture the “movement” of the Tilmann Grawe-designed cocktail dress. Boy, oh boy, does that dress move! (Fireworks came to my mind when seeing it.) The display captures the movement quite nicely, and actually seems more colorful than the dress. I think the floral designer did an outstanding job.
So, say you are a floral designer and you are assigned Fabrice-designed matching cocktail ensembles that emphasize pastel colors and cubic shapes in their design. Instead of being limited by the cubes, why not play around with it, as this designer did with their display. What an inventive approach here; I like the depth of the display as well. This display received an honorable mention in Beauty in Bloom‘s design competition.
Yes, there was indeed a display competition at Beauty in Bloom (I’m not sure what the prizes were, though), and it included daily vote counts from those in attendance and overall formal judging. The display that earned first place was this installation inspired by an Angelo Marani day ensemble, which has a hippie chick/1960s rocker vibe even though it was designed in 2005 (my mind equated it to the types of outfits Janis Joplin would wear). The display, with its use of petals and bare branches, evokes the outfit’s style quite nicely.
My favorite floral installation of the day, and the one that earned my vote in the People’s Choice competition, was this display inspired by an Emanuel Ungaro day ensemble. The display nicely incorporates the outfit’s vertical lines, chevron shapes, and soft fabrics. The afternoon sun that came through the Pavilion windows shone nicely on this display, which made its colors pop. I think this was a lovely design.
Lest you’re starting to think this post is about nothing but flowers, let’s talk about the other exhibition, Inspiring Beauty. This exhibition was first held at the Chicago History Museum a couple of years ago and is currently on tour, making Milwaukee its current stop through the first weekend of May. Inspiring Beauty features actual couture featured in the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling show that had a half-century run between 1958 and 2009. The show’s driving force was the late Eunice Walker Johnson, an executive at Johnson Publishing Company (she came up with the name for one of its signature publications, Ebony) and wife of the company’s founder, John Harold Johnson. Through the Fashion Fair, Eunice Johnson sought to break racial and class barriers in the fashion world; she saw fashion as an art form that should be accessible to everyone, African Americans in particular. While much has been said in the history books of the resistance blacks faced in gaining cultural and economic acceptance in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, Fashion Fair faced its own resistance, with prominent names in the European fashion world reluctant to deal with Mrs. Johnson and her team; either the designers didn’t know them as well as their other clients, or they simply didn’t want their designs seen on black models. Those fears would be eased by Mrs. Johnson’s power of persuasion (and checkbook), Johnson Publishing’s financial and promotional power, and the assistance of a few European-based liaisons. As a result, designers became much more open over time to having their haute couture included in the Fashion Fair, with outfits from the likes of Cardin, de la Renta, and St. Laurent appearing alongside those from black designers the shows left prominent room for. Over the years, Mrs. Johnson would acquire an estimated 7,000-8,000 outfits and accessories (a staggering number, isn’t it?), items that were added to the Fashion Fair’s roster as well a few that made their way to her personal collection.
Speaking of the shows themselves, Ebony Fashion Fair featured a wide variety of couture, everything from formal to bridal, simple to exquisite, glamorous to irreverent. As recently as the 1980s, the Fashion Fair would hold over 180 shows annually; after one show finished, the models, staff, and outfits headed to the bus for another show in another town the next night (they made quite a few stops to Milwaukee over the decades, by the way). Not only were the shows a wild, exciting experience for all involved, they served as fundraisers, with proceeds from the shows going to support various charities. The Fashion Fair also served as a big break for several famous names (for one, Richard Roundtree, whose time as a Fashion Fair model served as a stepping stone to his acting career). The Fashion Fair was last held in 2009, as Eunice Johnson was in declining health by then (she passed away in January 2010; 2016 will be the 100th anniversary of her birth). Models and other participants in Fashion Fair have since gotten together for reunions, and the Inspiring Beauty tour has suggested the possibility of a Fashion Fair revival.
At this point, I direct your attention to the beautifully-dressed lady at right (sorry, her name escapes me). During the day I visited the Art Museum, guided tours of the Inspiring Beauty displays were provided, and she served as one of the docents who provided walk-and-talk presentations on exhibition and display information, much of which I have included in this blog post. You notice how formal she appears? Now, if your museum tour guide was dressed in baggy jeans or a sweatshirt or a hoodie, would you be left with a positive impression? Probably not. How you dress is part of the impression you leave on others, which is something Eunice Johnson emphasized through the Ebony Fashion Fair: Show black audiences that even with the successes and aspirations they had gained, a well-dressed appearance was still important in how others saw you–and in how you saw yourself. It’s a message that’s still important nowadays as famous faces with size zero waistlines are more likely to grace fashion magazines–not all of whom are African American, a demographic that still holds a lot of buying power. There’s still a need to emphasize the “black is beautiful” message that Ebony Fashion Fair underscored; Inspiring Beauty can help fill that void of positivity, maybe serving to inspire a future designer, model, or fashionista of color.
With that said, I’ll use this segment of my post to feature some of the outfits on display in Inspiring Beauty, along with a few more images of the Beauty in Bloom displays they inspired. (I should note that flash photography–or daylight, for that matter–was not permitted inside the Inspiring Beauty exhibition so as not to fade and damage the outfits on display.) Let’s start with this cocktail ensemble by Sarli. Notice how striking the yellow silk chiffon is on this outfit. As the floral designer’s statement notes, yellow is a color of happiness, warmth, and optimism–a springtime color!
Next is this famous evening dress Patrick Kelly designed for 1986’s Fashion Fair, which had “Fashion Scandal” as its theme. Kelly incorporated a playful, suggestive face on the front of the gown (note where the eyes and lips are positioned), and included “I Love Fashion Scandal” on the back. It is indeed a visually joyful design, and holds true to Kelly’s belief: “I want my clothes to make you smile.” It’s also a dress that highlights the type of outfits Eunice Johnson wanted for Fashion Fair: Something that makes an impression as it heads both down and up the catwalk. The floral design inspired by this dress makes a statement of its own: Note the handcuffs positioned at the base of the vase symbolizing current racial relations.
There’s no political statement in this next outfit, but there is a lot of glamor: Bob Mackie designed this evening ensemble, with glitter, feathery flows, and loads of beauty that deserves all the attention it draws. The floral display Mackie’s ensemble inspired received its own share of demanding attention, earning third place in Beauty in Bloom‘s display competition.
I enjoyed viewing this Christian Lacroix cocktail ensemble as well as the display it inspired. You can’t help but say oui to the outfit, with its bold colors, use of vertical stripes, and influences of Lacroix’s native France, all of which give it a sense of romance and elegance, not to mention a sense of 1960s-style sophistication (the ensemble was designed in 1987). The French influence extends to the floral display, with its incorporation of the Eiffel Tower and even the checkerboard platform it sat on mirroring the outfit’s striped skirt.
Okay, a few more outfits without the flowers that I still wanted to mention and comment: On below left, this outfit is so striking in how it flows and moves. What’s notable, too, is the pattern of the hosiery matching that on the dress (kinda risque, huh?). In the middle photo are two outfits that add glitter to late 60s/early 70s style. The jumpsuit makes great use of vertical lines, while the suit on the right is daring in its use of plaid. (A note about the plaid suit: The docent mentioned that Eunice Johnson never liked the way both the jacket and slacks went together, preferring instead to have one piece or the other replaced with a solid blue; it would still be shown, however, the way you see it here.) At the lower right is an Emanuel Ungaro-designed bridal gown from 1996. A Fashion Fair show would usually end with bridal outfits such as this one. The use of floral designs and patterns on both the dress and headdress leaves one with an impression of elegance and beauty. I’m sure you’ll be just as stunned as I was when you observe the beauty of this dress.
I’ll end with some photos of other activity surrounding Beauty in Bloom the day I attended. Both levels of the Quadracci Pavilion were bustling with activity at a Beauty Bazaar, which featured several stations manned by vendors from the floral and beauty worlds. Everything from fashion and garden accessories to beauty products and even hairstyles and makeovers were offered. And, yes, most everything had a floral theme.
If you got all flowered out and needed a respite, one found it at the “Stallion Station,” which offered shoe shining, barber services, liquor tasting, or even just an area to sit down and take a rest. It was a perfect place for Tim Taylor to get his manliness on while Jill concentrated on the beauty.
A couple of Beauty in Bloom events I did not have the chance to attend or take advantage of included a moderated panel discussion of beauty topics and trends featuring Milwaukee- and Chicago-area fashion bloggers (I was a little bit bummed about not seeing that), as well as a Saturday night fashion show (I didn’t get to reserve a seat for that), which featured floral fashions, vintage outfits, and the spring 2015 collection designed by Katherine Feiner.
Two other things that caught my eye: I mentioned above how stunning the Quadracci Pavilion’s architecture is; visiting for the first time, the Pavilion’s Windhover Hall section (located right underneath the brise soleil) seems to have a cathedral feel to it, as evidenced by the below left photo. A little bit of levity can be found in the below right picture: Even someone who takes pictures for a living, in this case a video photographer for one of the Milwaukee TV stations, had to snap a few photos of the displays for his own.
All in all, my trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum for Beauty in Bloom and Inspiring Beauty was a great experience. If you are in the Milwaukee area, go see Inspiring Beauty before it ends its run on May 3; it really is an amazing show and well worth your time. Or, if you’re not in Milwaukee, perhaps check out this list of venues where it’ll appear in the future.