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Be Uplifted by Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A Personal Journey from Angst to Joy

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2018. Photo by Timothy Tiebout.

If the state of our divided country is getting you down, I have a marvelous remedy. If you do not live close to Philadelphia, my advice will take some planning. However, it will be well worth your effort — the perfect use for airline points, an excuse for a train getaway, as well as a gift of self-care for your exhausted Self.

To get to my point: Last week I spent a long lunch hour (I will go back!) at the exhibit, “Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now,” which is being offered from October 16, 2018 – March 3, 2019 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Ben Franklin Parkway) –the museum where Rocky (to be precise, his statue) is a welcoming presence and where phenomenal concerts take place!! —— I did not expect to write about this installation, but my experience with living art (including film documentation of creation) was so uplifting and produced such joy that I must share this experience with you and urge you to visit.  Please read on……

In this vibrant, delightful exhibit, curator Kristina Haugland brings to life over seven decades of style displayed, both couture and ready-to-wear dresses and accessories from 1947 – the year Dior introduced his revolutionary “New Look” to more recent expressions — some breathtaking, some lots of fun, all eye-opening. The Philadelphia museum’s costume and textile collection is one of the largest in the world (over 30,000 objects). It includes Princess Grace’s 1956 wedding dress (not shown), but on display are her wedding shoes (one with a penny in it for luck — I cannot remember which one), devotional prayer manual, and headpiece, all decorated with silk, lace, and seed pearls to match her dress. 

Not to worry if you adore bridal gowns – you will be treated to those by Pierre Balmain, Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera (with a bustled black skirt striped in gold, silver, and grey), and Philly native Gustave Tassell — his hooded expression is not to be missed.  Another Philly native, Joan Shepp — her downtown store a city treasure — was ecstatic when the museum purchased her Rei Kawakubo architectural coat.  Shepp donated a pair of his shoes, which, in full disclosure, I had tried on, adored, but was not budgeted for.  There is delight for every taste in iconic works including Adrian’s 1947 velvet “winged victory’ gown; the 1994 Geoffrey Beene’s 1994 silver lamé “Mercury” dress; a radical design reflected in Paco Rabanne’s dress made of plastic discs linked by metal rings; an understated black and white 1972 Chanel suit;  Issey Miyake’s vibrant 1994 “Flying Saucer” dress.  And so much more!

This shared, I must be honest about my attendance motivation — Deeply shaken and burned out by the long, painful ordeal and treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and all it symbolized in the Senate confirmation hearing Brett Kavanaugh, I yearned for beauty in a Self-Care experience to ease overwhelming distress. You see, for over 30 years I have worked with adults who enter treatment because as children they have been sexually violated, usually by those they have trusted. In all of these years, I have never doubted one truth of the violations described.  Due to this experience, I became an advisor to film documentarian Jennifer Fox, in her recently released first feature film, THE TALE, based on the true story of her sexual violation at age 13. I will ever be grateful to Arianna Huffington who printed my commentaries on sexual violation of the young when getting these truths into print was extremely difficult.  And I believe that much of Ronan Farrow’s professional determination to expose relentless sexual abuse — and the birth of the #MeToo Movement — has been the pain and suffering his sister, Dylan, endured.

You should also know that I am not versed in couture, but I do know beautiful clothing. Every month during my youth my mother and I would study her beloved issue of Vogue magazine, page by page. And until my dad’s business was destroyed in the Baltimore Riots in 1968, every season my mother bought one beautiful outfit, and I went with her to find it. Throughout high school, I worked two evenings and most Saturdays at Baltimore’s downtown Hutzler’s Department Store (with a women’s room on each floor) whose fine dress department was a dream come true. Hutzler’s is long closed, but lives on in memory of Baltimoreans, such as Ann Tyler, in her 1982 “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.” First I wrapped packages, and then I sold in the departments where teenagers shopped, usually with their totally exhausted moms, whom I would seat in change rooms, with magazines and a glass of water, while their daughters and I went to town.  Technically I did not sell — after delight with my exuberant shoppers, the regular staff, which worked on commission, rang up the sales. On weekdays I arrived by streetcar right after school, and could not wait to get there.

So, full of memories, and deeply saddened by Dr. Blasey Ford’s treatment, I chose our Philly Museum of Art for Self-Care and yes, reflection. Oh, how I wish my mother could have been with me as I took this remarkable, exquisite, fun-filled journey. But in essence, she was. For she has an apartment inside of me, next to my heart. And I could hear her voice telling me, “Have faith. In time truth is always revealed. In the meantime — Find beauty. Find creativity. Find delight.” I did — my mom’s favorite dress was the Herrera, mine the Miyake.  You will too. For tickets call 215 763 8100. 

Please note: The author posted this piece before our most recent tragedies occurred. Our country grieves, and she hopes you will visit Philadelphia both to see this exhibit as well as experience the hope, fortitude and bravery of our country’s first leaders. 

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