Fashion Independent: Ann Bonfoey Taylor at Phoenix Art Museum

Ann Bonfoey Taylor modeling some of her skiwear.
Ann Bonfoey Taylor modeling some of her skiwear.
Photograph by Toni Frissell. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor's been featured in national fashion publications including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but many of today's savvy fashionistas might overlook her name when making compiling a list of American fashion icons. 

This season, the Phoenix Art Museum is giving an audience the chance to reconsider. Taylor was an accomplished woman who flew planes, trained pilots, and competed in the Olympics -- always in impeccable style. 

Her collection of priceless couture and self-designed sportswear from the 1940s through 1960s, curated by Dennita Sewell, will be shown in the exhibit Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor in the Steele Gallery this Sunday through May 29. 

Taylor began to receive attention for her skiwear designs and received national press for her brave fashion choices. Her collection features work by the most skillful designers of the 40s, 50s and 60s including Charles James, Madame Grés, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Fortuny. 

"She personifies what an American woman can be," Sewell says. "She was a sportswoman and a hostess. I think she deserves reconsideration in our time as a fashion icon."

In 2008, Sewell flew to Denver to see the collection Taylor had left beautifully preserved. The museum then took over 60 ensembles of her wardrobe to add to its collection, that year, the gift was named one of the top 100 gifts to museums across the country of any kind of artwork. 

"The gift itself would have been outstanding just on its own, but the fact that she was photographed so much by all the great fashion photographers of the day and shown in all of these articles shows a dimension we don't always have," Sewell says.

After the end of her first marriage, Taylor was left with two kids and no financial support. Her father had owned one of the earliest private airports in the country and taught her to fly, so she became a pilot and became a flight instructor in World War II. 

Soon after the war, she began to design her own ski clothes, which garnered national fashion press and were sold in several stores around the country. She soon met Vernon Taylor of Lord & Taylor department stores. The two were married and began to build a life in the Denver and Vail, Colorado. The two would host friends from an international social set and so her stylish collection of haute couture began to flourish. 

"Of all of her accomplishments, I think she felt that fashion was the thing she might be most proud of," Sewell says. "Having made these ski fashions and kind of pulled her self up by the bootstraps and got through the war and later in life she was able to put herself together in a fashionable sense."

Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor will be in the Steele Gallery Feb. 27 through May 29 at the Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. 

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