March 15, 2014 by Courtney Denton
Florals, and their vibrant role in fashion history, were the star at the Drexel Historic Costume Collection’s Style Saturday event March 8.
Clare Sauro, the collection’s curator, once again opened the archives to the public for the quarterly event, titled “In Bloom: The Fashion of Florals.” In the spirit of the upcoming spring season, Sauro had on display only a small portion of the collection’s pieces bearing the most prominent motif of the season.
Garments and accessories could be dated back as early as the 16th century. According to Sauro, a small carriage parasol with a handpainted floral knob was from 1868. While it was primarily used to shield its owner from the sun, the pink lining on the inside of the canopy would cast a rosy glow. This was especially useful because women at this time did not have the luxury of cosmetics, Sauro said. An enamel comb from 1918 bore the image of a Japanese cherry blossom, which was a popular motif in both the art and fashion world in the early twentieth century. According to Sauro, this asymmetrical comb from the art deco era was used by women to adorn the high, ornate hairstyles which preceded the popularity of the bob in the 1920s.
Silk-flower adorned hats made up the small selection of pieces of whimsical millinery. Sauro said using silk flowers as a decorative material was both expensive and labor-intensive, so such hats were symbolic of a high social status. One, bearing hand-painted petals, was from Strawbridge & Clothier, while another cloche with a single flower bore a label from Wanamaker’s. According to Sauro, both the style and date indicate that the cloche was possibly designed by Chanel but sold through the historic Philadelphia department store, however there is no documentation. A pair of Manolo Blahniks featured pink and yellow floral embroidery in the Rococo style, and a pair of unmarked silver heels from the 1920s was painted with tiny rosettes.
While the accessories showcased exemplary craftsmanship, the selection of dresses featured stunning fabrications. Dresses from Pauline Trigere and Michaele Vollbracht showcased flattened floral patterns, inspired by traditional Japanese prints that were popular in the 1980s. According to Sauro, the Trigere look was a runway sample sent straight from the designer to the client. A long column dress from the Elizabeth Arden salon in New York City in the 1970s was covered completely in a purple, white and chartreuse beading. The iris floral pattern was inspired by the art deco design movement, Sauro said.
According to the collection’s curator, most of these spectacularly preserved specimens were custom made for their wearer. For this reason, Sauro and her associates use foam dress forms that they can carve and shape to fit each piece specifically. This ensures that the garments, most of which become more delicate as time goes on, are not subjected to any amount of unnecessary stress. This is only one feature of the state-of-the-art storage facility used to protect the garments in Drexel’s archive. The collection, located in the URBN Center at 3501 Market St., also has its own ventilation system that exists separately from the rest of the building, Sauro said. This makes it easier to control the temperature and humidity and to create the safest environment for even the most fragile pieces. Even the usage of pens in the collection area is not permitted.
Sauro had a hunch that a Scaasi evening coat, made of ivory satin and lined with a vibrant floral silk, was missing its other half, a dress made out of the same fabric as the lining. By pure luck, she happened to find it pinned on Pinterest, but after tracing it back to a vintage eBay seller, she found it had already been purchased by another buyer. However, she is confident it will find its way to Drexel, Sauro said, as long as she allows her passion for the collection to will it into being.
Special thanks to Maeve Walker