Designers love to talk about the mixture of Art and Fashion, but few, if any, have been able to straddle those worlds with the skill and integrity of Sonia Delaunay (pictured in 1925 at left, in her studio), a name that should be familiar to scholars of both disciplines. The Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum opens “Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay,” the first major American exhibition devoted to the artist in 30 years.
The Russian born Delaunay alternated painting and design throughout her life. She married artist Robert Delaunay in 1910, and most of her clothing design took place during the 1920s. The museum has a few precious examples of her fashion work on display including hats, bathing suits and a spectacular embroidered coat made for the actress Gloria Swanson (below, right). Such things are extremely rare and so the opportunity to see them in person is well worth the visit to the Cooper-Hewitt. As the show focuses mainly on her design work (it is at the Cooper-Hewitt, after all), it contains only one full oil painting, though it is a stunning one, but includes early design collaborations with poets Apollinaire and Tristan Tzara to name a few which gives you an idea of the kind of avant-garde circles the Delaunay's frequented. Interestingly, Delaunay never directly translated a painting to a textile design. She kept her disciplines discrete, but her colorful aesthetic naturally pervaded both efforts. Though she stopped making clothes after 1929, and devoted herself to painting by the mid-30s, her textile designs continued through the support of Dutch department store Metz & Co. Much of the exhibition consists of these original designs, many of which remain familiar and popular today, and are shown from initial design sketches through variations to the final product. Never has a bunch of textile samples seemed so fascinating.
Delaunay has long been a inspiration for fashion designers over the years including Perry Ellis, Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent among many others, and her textile designs continue to be popular today. Most visitors will be struck by how, decades later, her work continues to look modern and fresh. One of the things The Shophound appreciated most, however, was the way Delaunay managed to make that Art and Fashion connection seem so natural, especially when compared to some of the overhyped, heavily marketed collaborations we see today. Aside from a timely recognition of Delaunay's talent and contribution, the exhibition reminded us that great design often happens on a smaller, more personal scale, and when outside business comes in for support, it can happen without all of the corporate commodification we are so accustomed to now.
The exhibition runs through June 5th, and if it is not enough of a draw by itself, you can always make it a double header with the continuing Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition. If Jewels and Design aren't enough to get you up to the Cooper-Hewitt, then we aren't quite sure why you are reading this blog at all.
Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay through June 5th at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side
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