Sophie Gimbel: Fashioning American Couture, on view at Parsons The New School for Design from January 22 through February 12, 2013, explores the career of this seminal, yet little known today, 20th century designer who directed the Salon Moderne at Saks Fifth Avenue and became a champion of American Couture.
The Salon Moderne was the exclusive haute couture boutique within Saks Fifth Avenue, which in the 1920s and 1930s helped introduce preeminent European designers such as Schiaparelli, Vionnet, Mainbocher, and Balenciaga to the American public. In the 1940s, it became a platform for Gimbel's own couture designs, which were intended specifically for American women. Gimbel's work graced the cover of Vogue's inaugural American fashion issue in 1940, and in 1947 she made the cover of Time magazine, the first American designer to achieve this distinction. In timing with the exhibition, Saks Fifth Avenue will feature Gimbel looks in the windows of their flagship store on Fifth Avenue. On February 8, Parsons will also present a lecture by the curator, Beth Dincuff Charleston, followed by a reception hosted by Saks Fifth Avenue, in the exhibition galleries.
"Gimbel was an outspoken champion of American fashion," said Beth Dincuff Charleston, who also curates the Parsons Fashion Archives, which houses the school's collection of Gimbel garments as well as nearly 10,000 other works that represent a range of styles, time periods and countries. "She rejected the radicalism of Christian Dior's New Look in favor of subtler changes in American women's wear, speaking to an intelligent consumer who was no longer willing to follow fashion dictates from a distant European capital. Among Sophie Gimbel's many contributions towards an emerging American style was her strong support of Parsons, and the education of a new generation of American designers."
American Couture, a term used to identify expertly rendered made-to-measure garments that underwent numerous fittings, was a movement led by Gimbel, who headed the Salon Moderne from the 1930s until its closing in 1969. During World War II, she played a major role in organizing the first combined showing of American fashion in a precursor to New York Fashion Week.
The exhibition features 18 garments from the Parsons Fashion Archive. Laboriously crafted by skilled artisans who made up the Salon Moderne workroom, these dresses, gowns and suits demonstrate techniques in cutting, patternmaking, draping, construction and fitting learned both domestically and abroad, rendered in luxury fabrics and a rich color palette. The exhibition will also feature archival photographs and other ephemera that document her impact on American fashion, and works created by Parsons students in a couture class that emphasize the techniques on display in the exhibition, as well as a video of their creations.
Sophie Gimbel: Fashioning American Couture
| by Levent Ozler