Adrian costume for Norma Sheares in Riptide, 1934.
Organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies program, the exhibition highlights Gilbert Adrian’s masterful techniques and his work both as a famous Hollywood costume designer and a successful fashion designer. It is also the first exhibition to focus on the importance of textiles within his work. Presenting a selection of garments, textiles, advertisements, and film clips, the exhibition showcases Adrian’s innovative use of print as well as his skilled construction techniques, within an environment that evokes his Beverly Hills salon.
Adrian (1903 –1959) began his career in fashion illustration before moving into costume design, eventually designing for more than 250 films at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. He was able to parlay his success as a Hollywood costume designer into ready-to -wear fashion through studio partnerships with national department stores, such as Macy’s. Within the exhibition, an excerpt from a 1940 MGM promotional film, Hollywood: Style Center of the World, will explain the concept of department store cinema shops, where women purchased ready-to-wear versions of ensembles worn by Hollywood movie stars. Encouraged by the success of these shops, Adrian established his own label and opened a Beverly Hills salon in 1942.
The exhibition also explore s the ways Adrian incorporated printed and patterned textiles in his designs. Examples by textile artist Wesley Simpson and manufacturer Bianchini-Férier are paired with corresponding advertisements that prominently feature Adrian’s finished garments.
A 1947 Adrian evening dress (first photo below) demonstrates the perfect union of print and construction. This dress was created using an illustration by Salvador Dalí that was turned into fabric by textile converter Wesley Simpson. Adrian expanded the Surrealist boulder print by extending its repeated shadow effect over the wearer’s shoulder, using drapery and appliqué. This inventive design allows the extraordinary print to be the focal point of the dress.
An evening ensemble from 1945 (second photo below) showcases Adrian’s creativity with surface design. To create the illusion of a printed textile, h e pieced together contrasting solid-colored fabrics. A 1946 advertisement from Town & Country described the garment as “intricate as a puzzle and [as] modern as a Picasso.”
Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond concludes with an extravagant silk jersey gown (third photo below) from Lovely to Look At (1952), the last film to feature Adrian’s work. This cinematic costume with an embellished bodice and elaborate hood is displayed alongside a 1942 black silk jersey dress from one of his earliest ready-to-wear collections. The pairing highlights the unconventional drapery methods that Adrian used throughout his career.
Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond is at The Mueseum at FIT from March 7 through to April 1, 2017.
Left: This gown showcases Adrian’s design acumen while allowing the textile to be the highlight. He built on Dalí’s Surrealist motif by using drapery and appliqué to create a shadow effect on the wearer’s shoulder. A harmonious blend of print and construction, the gown demonstrates Adrian’s ability to expand a fabric’s surface beyond print. (Evening dress, Print designed by Salvador Dali for Wesley Simpson, Inc, textile by Enka Rayon, printed rayon crepe, 1947, P90.69.1, gift of Lola Walker.)
Right: These advertisements from Vogue promote Wesley Simpson and Enka Rayon and identify the participants involved in the production of the gowns. Enka produced the base fabric, Salvador Dalí provided illustrations, Wesley Simpson converted the drawings into pattern repeats and screen-printed them onto the rayon, and Adrian created the evening gowns shown in the magazine.
(Advertisement, Wesley Simpson and Enka Rayon. Photo by John Rawlings . Vogue, April 1, 1947, p. 12-13)
Adrian developed an ingenious method of creating surface design through the manipulation of solid textiles. For this ensemble, he pieced together organic shapes as if they were a jigsaw puzzle in order to create the illusion of a printed textile. Inspired by art, Adrian regularly gave his gowns titles such as “Shades of Picasso.”
Left: Advertisement, Enka Rayon, Harper’s Bazaar, May 1945, p. 134. / Right: Three-piece evening ensemble, “Modern Museum” collection, rayon crepe, 1945, P82.13.1a-c.
Adrian manipulated silk jersey to accentuate the body in this costume design from his final film, Lovely to Look At. He created the hood by pleating the textile on the bodice, allowing it to expand as it draped the wearer’s head and contract around the wrist, to form the semblance of a sleeve. (Costume, Lovely to Look At (1952), silk jersey, c. 1952, 70.8.18, gift of MGM.)