Planning an exhibition such as Chicago Styled: Fashioning The Magnificent Mile® (November 15, 2014–August 16, 2015) requires combing through the entire costume collection to find the most appropriate garments. We start this process by looking through our collection database and old catalog cards and then pulling the actual garments from storage to examine in person. For Chicago Styled, we pulled more than one hundred garments out of storage for consideration. Only twenty-six of them made the final cut, so here is a peek of three pieces that were not selected.
Evening dress by Halston, 1978. Gift of Mrs. Philip Handmacher. 1982.139.1ab. All photographs by CHM Staff
This sequined, iridescent evening dress designed by Halston was one of my favorite pieces under consideration, and I was heartbroken that it was not one of the final selections. This gown was sold at Handmoor, a women’s clothing store run by Philip Handmacher (the husband of the donor of this piece) that sold designer clothes at discounted prices. Handmoor was located on the edges of downtown Chicago’s retail district, first at 216 West Jackson Boulevard and later at 200 West Adams Street. In order to bring customers to his store, Handmacher arranged for cars to pick up customers from Michigan Avenue and drive them to his store.
Detail of 1982.139.1ab.
The retail origins of this dress are a great representation of Michigan Avenue’s impact on other Chicago retailers, but because it did not come from Michigan Avenue proper it was considered out of scope and thus dropped.
Woman’s coat by Norman Norell, fall/winter 1970–71. Gift of Mr. LeRoy Pesch. 1986.222.
Another bright and eye-catching piece was this lavish green feather coat by Norman Norell. The coat was worn by the donor’s wife, Donna, to the second inauguration of Richard Nixon in 1973. As well as having a fascinating story and being a truly show-stopping piece, the coat is an important design from Norman Norell’s canon and a real treasure of the collection. However, the coat had no direct connection to Michigan Avenue and thus was deemed beyond the scope of this particular exhibition. Additionally, there were conservation concerns due to the delicacy of the dyed feathers. While this piece made it to the final shortlist, for these reasons it was ultimately cut.
Woman’s ensemble, designed by Paige Mayberry for Grass Orchids, Limited, c. 1987. Gift of Grass Orchids, Limited. 1987.503.1abc.
This hand-painted leather coat with matching belt was a favorite piece of Petra Slinkard, Curator of Costumes. It was designed by Paige Mayberry for Grass Orchids, Limited, a Chicago design firm of considerable acclaim. This coat shows an incredible technical virtuosity, both in the painted details and in the construction and piecing of the leather. As an example of the work of a Chicago designer, it is an important piece in the Museum’s collection. However, it did not have a connection to Michigan Avenue and so it was beyond the scope of this exhibition.
Detail of 1987.503.1abc.
These are only three of many incredible garments that we could not fit into Chicago Styled, but keep an eye out for them in our future exhibitions!
Written by curatorial assistant Katy Werlin