Fashion takes center stage in Minneapolis exhibits

Tom Ford for Gucci, man's velvet evening suit
Tom Ford for Gucci, man's velvet evening suit, Autumn/Winter 2004/5. (Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum)
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Two new exhibits in Minneapolis highlight the art of fashion.

One offers an intimate look at the industry's history, while the other presents striking images that sell fashion to the public.

Leather, silk and sequins abound in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' exhibition "Italian Style" — a 70-year retrospective of modern Italian fashion, dating back to its early beginnings in the wake of World War II.

Dolce & Gabbana, leather ankle boots
Dolce & Gabbana, leather ankle boots with gold, white and pink embroidery, 2000. (Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum)

The exhibit, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is making its first U.S. stop in Minneapolis.

"It's a huge kind of Cinderella story — rags to riches story," said Nicole LaBouff, assistant curator of the Institute of Arts. "There's a lot of drama here."

LaBouff said the clothing reflects the time in which it was worn.

"There's a lot of historical content that emerges from studying the objects on display here," she said. "What was it like to live in war-time Italy? How quickly did they rebound from this devastating economic tragedy?"

From wool suits to flowing gowns, Italy became the epicenter of fashion, first with the couture boutiques of Ferragamo and Simonetta, and later with ready-to-wear lines by Versace, Valentino, Gucci, Armani and Prada.

Salvatore Ferragamo with Audrey Hepburn
Salvatore Ferragamo with Audrey Hepburn at Palazzo Spini Feroni in Florence, 1954 (Courtesy Banca Dati dell'Archivio Storico Foto Locchi Firenze)

As Hollywood fell in love with Italy, elegant dresses adorned Audrey Hepburn, while Elizabeth Taylor sported luxurious furs and jewels. There are examples of both, along with stately purses and outlandish shoes.

Walking through the MIA's Target galleries, visitors can trace an arc from the hand-crafted to the mass-produced and now back to a renewed fascination with hand-sewn pieces, LaBouff said.

Just a couple of miles away, the walls of Weinstein Gallery also are taken up with fashion. But its exhibit, "The Fashion Show," centers on photography.

Director Leslie Hammonds selected 12 female fashion photographers, from the 1930s to today.
The images offer both a look at the history of fashion, as well as that of photography.

Lillian Bassman, It's a Cinch
Lillian Bassman (American, 1917-2012) It's a Cinch: Carmen, New York, Harper's Bazaar, 1951 Gelatin silver print 20 x 24 inches (Courtesy the Weinstein Gallery)

"We chose to do this show because we felt that women fashion photographers never really got the credit they deserved or the attention," Hammonds said. "So we just wanted to shine a light on it."

The show includes the subjects of Louise Dahl-Wolfe, whose work for Harper's Bazaar influenced the subsequent careers of photographers Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

It features others by 20-year-old Olivia Bee, who has already acquired an impressive portfolio shooting for Converse, Adidas, Levi's and Hermes.

Across the decades, the images range from long-necked women in ball gowns against palatial backdrops, to models in the 1970s hanging out awkwardly in public baths.

Black and white photographs make way for psychedelic colors.

Some images have no clothing in them. Instead they create a mood or an attitude that a designer wants associated with its label.

Cass Bird, FDR, 2007
Cass Bird (American, born 1974) FDR, 2007 Archival pigment print 40 x 50 inches (Courtesy the Weinstein Gallery)

In one of the more recent photos by Cass Bird, two young waifs in denim shorts and T-shirts goof off on an overpass.

"All of her images are in that same vein-very playful, very comfortable — It seems like they're willing participants in this fun thing," Hammonds said.

The Weinstein's exhibit is well-timed, as the New York Times recently reported on a surge of interest in collecting fashion photography.

Hammonds said it is an accessible art form that has long been under appreciated.

If you go

What: "Italian Style"

When: Through Jan. 4.
Where: Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, 2400 Third Ave. South, Minneapolis.

If you go

What: "The Fashion Show"

When: Through Jan. 17.

Where: Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St., Minneapolis.