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Exhibition Review: Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture and Fabulous Fashion

Exhibition Review: Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture and Fabulous Fashion

Mint Museum Randolph (Charlotte), October 14, 2017 – February 4, 2018

Have you ever wanted to take a peek inside the closets of fashion-forward ladies and gentlemen in your town? If happened to be in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, in the fall of 2017, you had the opportunity to do just that at The Mint Museum Randolph. Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture and Fabulous Fashion showcased twenty-one pieces from local closets, including an ensemble worn by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. According to The Mint Museum, the exhibition was “focused on 21st century long gowns, from cocktail attire to wedding dresses” and “highlighted the meticulous craftsmanship, attention to detail, and fine materials characteristic of couture.” The exhibition also highlighted “the inherent architecture of fashion from the pattern pieces, cut, and construction methods, sometimes layered with innovative decorative flourishes of surface design.”

Charlotte Collects was curated by Annie Carlano, Senior Curator of Craft, Design & Fashion at The Mint Museum. Visitors to the exhibition learned “the story of each of the collectors’ individual philosophies and collecting criteria” while viewing exceptional ensembles set within a minimalist, yet beautiful, exhibition design.

Including ready-to-wear, couture, and haute couture designs, the exhibition spanned three gallery spaces (Alexander, Dwelle and Jones galleries) and truly allowed visitors to appreciate each item in 360-degree views. The light-handed scenography ensured that visitors were not distracted from the intricacies and craftsmanship of each piece.

Selecting ensembles from the closets of eleven Charlotte-based residents, including Amanda Weisiger Cornleson, Lisa Dargan, Myra Gassman, Deidre Grubb, Alex Holleman, Chandra Johnson, Ashley Mattei, Cam Newton, Laura Vinroot Poole, Kim Blanding Putney, and Ann Tarwater, was likely not a difficult task.

Charlotte is a rapidly growing city, and with its expansion, the citizens’ fashion sense has evolved in tandem with this growth.

From an outsider’s perspective, however, Charlotte may receive a reputation as “traditional” in reference to fashion choices; however, it is clear from Charlotte Collects that this is not the case in the existing Charlotte fashion scene. Indeed, Charlotte is a rapidly growing city, and with its expansion, the citizens' fashion sense has evolved in tandem with this growth. The wide-range of designers on display, from Roberto Cavalli to Issey Miyake, stands as a testament to this idea.

With a strong mix of contemporary, classic, and fashion-forward designers, it is apparent Charlotte collectors understand, and enjoy partaking in, the fashion world. As it stands, designers like Delpozo, Rochas, and Rodarte are often not part of a traditional couture collector’s knowledge base. One takeaway from Charlotte Collects is that collectors in Charlotte — or individuals who appreciate fashion for the artistry and craft, and not merely for utilitarian reasons — are moving outside their comfort zones in the search for unique pieces to add to their closets.

Of particular interest to me was a structured colorful coat by Delpozo, a silk made to order ready-to-wear Issac Mizrahi evening gown, and a bright yellow and pink couture Giambattista Valli formal skirt and bodice with embellishment at the bodice, which, as the wall text suggested, exuded a certain joie de vivre.

Interestingly, the exhibition design enabled visitors intimate access to garments on display. The ability to get up close and personal with each design was unique, as many fashion exhibitions place visitors a generous distance from pieces on display. Not only are most designs placed on platforms in the typical fashion exhibition, they are often behind glass. The exhibition design of Charlotte Collects placed visitors at eye level, and provided them with the ability to closely examine couture pieces, as if you had just walked into one of the collector’s closets. As a result, visitors walked away with a greater understanding of the craftsmanship behind individual pieces. During my time viewing the exhibition, I noticed many other visitors discussing a variety of design elements – including cut, drape, fabric, and color. I believe the placement of each mannequin at eye level encouraged and facilitated these conversations.

Because the exhibition featured designs worn by multiple individuals, Tae Smith, the consulting fashion conservator who dressed the exhibition, had to creatively and intelligently manage the collectors strikingly different body shapes. Smith did so impeccably. As a visitor, even one with a critical eye, I did not notice the differences in body type while viewing the exhibition. The combined exhibition design and mannequin dressing created a minimalist environment that allowed visitors to appreciate, and pay particular attention to, each piece on display.

Charlotte Collects was the second exhibition in the Year of Fashion at The Mint Museum, and will be followed by The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta, opening March 31, 2018 at Mint Museum Randolph.

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