Antiques-Show Dress Is The Fashion Statement of The Season

Discussion in 'The Front Parlor' started by Tomasso, Mar 7, 2014.

  1. Tomasso

    Tomasso Incurably Addicted


    This Old Thing Is Turning Heads

    Antiques-Show Dress Is The Fashion Statement of The Season



    This dress, which was on view at the Winter Antiques Show, offers a photographic tour of 1930s New York.

    Perhaps the most captivating fashion statement this season in New York was not on the runway or the street, but at the Winter Antiques Show: a modest black and white vintage dress, in mint condition and priced at $135,000, displayed by Allan Katz Americana, that was vigorously photographed, shared on Instagram and Facebook, and pinned on Pinterest.

    The design was simple, with cap sleeves, a V-neck and a long full skirt. There was a cloth belt and two small cherry-red Bakelite buttons. But it was the fabric that truly astounded. It was a dynamic photographic tour of 1930s New York City: Grant’s Tomb, the Automat, the Empire State Building, illuminated marquees for a James Cagney movie, and signs for Planters Peanuts and Maybelline. In his catalog, Mr. Katz wrote, “The amazing manipulation and blending of these images create a surrealistic collage.”

    And a desire-provoking one. “When I saw it at the show, I said ‘I want this dress,’ ” said Wendy Goodman, the design editor of New York magazine. “It’s so fascinating, so modern, so ahead of its time. The images look like they could have been computer generated. If I had a company, I would make it into everything: wall covering, floor covering, everything.” (The print of the dress seems to be an American variation on the classic French home-furnishing fabrics toile, seen recently in patterns featuring Brooklyn, designed for the Beastie Boys, and on the nursery wall on “Downton Abbey.”)

    Margaret Hofer, the curator of decorative arts at the New-York Historical Society, called the dress dazzling, saying her jaw dropped when she first saw it. Barry Harwood, the curator of decorative arts at the Brooklyn Museum, proclaimed it fabulous. Through an assistant, Martha Stewart also professed her love for the fabric.

    “I would totally wear it,” said Keita Turner, a decorator, adding, “it looks like something Carrie Bradshaw might have worn. It is both so vintage, so modern and so chic.”

    But along with praise, the dress (which did not find a buyer at the show) has inspired questions and a growing community of sleuths seeking to answer them. The questions include the year it was made.

    Mr. Katz, who acquired it from a private collector he declined to name, believes 1934. The Brooklyn Museum, which possesses a swatch of the same fabric in blue, asserts the date was 1939, which would align its production with a World’s Fair, whose slogan was “Dawn of a New Day.” The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum recently revealed that it, too, has a swatch of the fabric, in red, which the institution dates from 1935.

    Then there are the questions of who designed the dress, who designed the fabric, who shot the photographs and what textile company made it (Springs Industries and M. Lowenstein have been suggested). And while no one knows who the textile designer was, nearly everyone agrees that the designer was inspired by Ruth Reeves. Her “Manhattan” fabric, which is part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was designed for the department store W. & J. Sloane in 1930, which also furnished the model homes at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

    Jonathan O’Hea, an antiques dealer, pointed to Edward Steichen’s “Maypole, Empire State Building” from 1932 as a possible inspiration. Stills from Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie “Metropolis,” which vividly depict a soaring, larger-than-life city, might also have been a factor. And what about Italian Futurist painters who played with perspective and whose manifesto called for an aggressive push toward the future? The American textile designer Clayton Knight was also singled out as a possible source by the Cooper-Hewitt’s Carly Lewis, because of Knight’s boldly geometric fabric, also named “Manhattan,” from 1925.

    And what latter-day Bradshaw (or Horvath) wore it, if anyone?

    “I’m dying to know,” Ms. Hofer said. “It’s frustrating, all the questions. I showed the images to our photography curator and there was no eureka moment.”

    Ms. Goodman added: “Whoever wore it was an original. So ahead of her time.”

    A version of this article appears in print on March 6, 2014, on page E9 of the New York edition with the headline: This Old Thing Is Turning Heads. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe
  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Those sleeves and that silhouette are much more 1939-40 than 1934-35. Absolutely no question at all.
  3. lareine

    lareine A-List Customer

    New Zealand
    If the show had put Carrie Bradshaw wearing that, she'd have chopped it to well above the knee, I'm sure!

    It's a pretty dress but there is no way on earth I'd pay that money for it, regardless of what year it was made.
  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I think the experts underestimate how common novelty fabrics were in the thirties -- you could find all sorts of them at the Woolworth's dry goods counter. I've seen another photographic montage print from 1939 which showed color images of the World's Fair.

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