Being cool is always fashionable, but with the opening of “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour,” you can not only get out of the heat, but also view exceptional fashion design. The exhibition, on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art July 21 through Nov. 26, explores 200 years of fashion through the work of more than 100 designers and brands, some dating back to the 19th-Century.
In the press release, exhibition curator Michelle Tolini Finamore says “American fashion reflects the complexity of America writ large, weaving together stories of innovation, immigration, independence, self-invention, and creativity. The sweeping story of American fashion encompasses designers from all walks of life — from the rural to the urban, from the regional to the global — who embody history past and present and represent issues related to inclusion and exclusion.”
With so many important and impressive pieces, it’s challenging to mention but a few, however the circa-1850s denim frock coat (maker unknown) stole my imagination and my heart. Additional highlights for me personally include a circa 1866-67, silk brocade evening gown by New Orleans designer Madame Olympe Boisse; the green suit and long cape worn by Big Freedia at the 2023 Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans created by designer Tyron “Marquette” Perrin; Rhinestone Western wear “Nudie suits” by Nudie Cohn; the Fall/Winter 1980 black chiffon, netting and sequins Halston fireworks dress worn to the Regan Inauguration; and garments inspired by artist Roy Lichtenstein (and pop art in general) presented alongside the artist’s work.
Viewing the works of Indigenous, immigrant, Black and female designers, in together with those of household names such as Vera Wang and Tommy Hilfiger was also a highlight and a learning experience. While an appreciation for fashion is helpful, it’s not necessary to appreciate the history and artistry on display.
While you’re there, do not skip the comprehensive and (in this photographer’s biased opinion) fantastic “Photogenic: Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce” exhibition. I’m still buzzing from viewing several pieces I hadn’t yet seen in person, such as a delightful work by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the circa-1900 image “Pontoise, Ancient Hôtel du Tribunal,” by Eugène Atget, printed circa-1910. I’ve had the extreme pleasure to visit often with the earliest surviving photograph produced in the camera obscura Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s “Untitled ‘point de vue,'” 1827, heliograph on pewter, at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas from my time living in Texas, and found myself equally as thrilled by Atget’s print.
Reminder, the museum offers free general museum admission on Wednesdays for Louisiana residents’ courtesy of The Helis Foundation.