Fashions go with the flow

Allison Tomei

Rhinestone buckles accentuate the back of the 1930s piece “Black Silk Satin Dress and Looped Belt with Rhinestone Buckles” by an unknown designer. The dress is on display at the “Spirals and Ellipses: Clothing the Body Three-Dimensionally” gallery at the

Credit: Jason Hall

During the 1920s, women’s fashion went from straight to spiral.

In a fashion tradition that is still seen today, designers in the ’20s began to “push the envelope” with dress styles, emphasizing bodies as “motional” instead of static and two-dimensional, said Anne Bissonnette, curator of the Kent State University Museum.

The museum is featuring the exhibition “Spirals & Ellipses: Clothing the Body Three-Dimensionally” until Oct. 1. It focuses on designers who create unconventional garments for the body as a three-dimensional form, spotlighting individualist thinkers such as Madeleine Vionnet, Madame GrŠs, Charles Kleibacker, Halston and Isabel Toledo. These artists were able to see the body as a curved, pliable entity that changed while in motion, Bissonnette said.

The first and most influential person to apply spiraling and elliptical concepts to clothing was Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975). Until her construction of Grecian-inspired dresses, a woman’s body was corseted, which restricted movement and comfort.

“In my opinion, she is the most brilliant clothing designer there has ever been,” Bissionnette said. “What Madeleine Vionnet did was apply a critical thought to dress making. Other people then followed in her footsteps.”

Although the museum does not feature any garments designed by Vionnet herself, Bissonnette displays four toiles, a type of light linen with a stitched pattern, made by lifelong Vionnet researcher Betty Kirke. The toiles serve as examples of what Vionnet’s work may have looked like.

“(Kirke) has spent 25 years of her life studying the work of one individual,” Bissonnette said.

While most garments were created with flat patterns, distinctively segmenting the body into front and back, Vionnet and other featured designers used construction techniques, such as draping, to attain a more relaxed, comfortable fit, Bissonnette said.

Most of the garments on display are part of the Kent State Museum’s collection; however, the Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection loaned several pieces. Isabel Toledo and contemporary designer Cat Chow lent additional garments.

Bissonnette said she showcased this exhibition because she wanted to broaden the horizons of the students studying fashion.

“Students need to know that what we’re teaching is the basics – there is so much more to be learned,” she said.

Kelly Friedman, junior exercise specialist major, said she appreciates this exhibit because the dresses look modern.

“I don’t know if I would wear them, but some of them look like something you’d find in Dillard’s,” she said.

Friedman’s observation is almost on target: The exhibition features garments ranging from the 1920s to 2004.

“These designers thought about who was going to wear them, and how they are going to feel,” Bissonnette said. “(People) are sculptures in motion and great examples of the infinite ways one can design intelligently.”

Contact School of Fashion Design and Merchandising reporter Allison Tomei at [email protected].