Review: High Style

High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is written by Jan Glier Reeder who is Consulting Curator of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.

Reeder spent 3 years  assessing and documenting the collection before it was transferred in 2009 to the custody of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The transfer was undertaken to ensure the continued preservation and availability of the collection. This book is the result of this documentation. It is a coffee-table style book- reference book providing 200 examples of the collection drawn from the 24,000  women and men’s garments, accessories, hats and shoes.

The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection was founded in 1903 to provide inspiration to America’s growing fashion industry. The collection started as part of the ethnology department to understand the world’s cultures. However the purpose evolved to one which served to act as a link between the art world and the industrial and design communities. The purpose of the collection changed to a dual purpose of its aesthetic value and its commercial appeal.

Through its Department of Industrial Design, the Design Lab and Department of Costume and Textiles, the Brooklyn Museum became one of the most important centres for fashion study in the United States, with the collection acting as a major reference resource. The collection is strong in French couturiers of the 19th and 20th centuries including Worth (regarded as the first couturier), Lanvin, Chanel Schiaparelli, Dior, Saint Laurent and Givenchy. Women American designers are well represented, especially those who used the Design Lab.

The book is arranged by chapters which highlight the collection’s strengths, including French Fashions, Schiaparelli, American Design, Accessories and Rarities, which include a collection of regional dolls in regional costume.

The photos feature an excellent commentary on the provenance and the designers featured. The text is accessible and clear and appeals to the fashion student, as well to the interested person in fashion history. The text certainly adds value to the photos, which are exquisite.

Some of the pieces are accompanied by photos or plates of the items in a context-  sketches of the costume or a photo of a model wearing the item. One of particular interest and provenance is a black dress adorned with yellowed lace which was the property of Queen Victoria. A photo of Her Majesty in the dress is shown as she sits while holding her great-grandson, the future Edward VIII as his father and grandfather look on.

I really loved the shoe collection- both a combination of classic styles which would still be wearable today and amazing designs from long ago that would still be regarded as avant-garde now.

The book is the combined effort of curators, designers and staff who painstakingly compiled the collection over  100 years, and is a fantastic book.


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