"Modern Spirit" at Phoenix Art Museum Showcases Iconic Styles

Display of styles at "Modern Spirit: Fashion of the 1920s" at Phoenix Art Museum
Display of styles at "Modern Spirit: Fashion of the 1920s" at Phoenix Art Museum
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Phoenix Art Museum's Modern Spirit: Fashion of the 1920s, is a condensed yet fascinating look a period of age of jazz, flappers, and art deco.

Many of the styles seen in the exhibition are making a big comeback today, specifically the pleated skirt and the midi length hemlines. If you've been "eyeing" the fashion sense of the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) you'll appreciate the style of skirts and dresses in this exhibit.

Modern Spirit's curator Dennita Sewell agrees that these styles are in vogue once again. "There is an underlying interest in the 1920s. Baz Lurhman has been working on a new version of The Great Gatsby which will come out next year. When season 3 of Downton Abbey premiers this winter it will pick up its story in the post WW1 era with styles similar to those shown in the exhibition. On the runway, Gucci just celebrated the company's anniversary with a collection inspired by their early archives."

"Modern Spirit" at Phoenix Art Museum Showcases Iconic Styles
Phoenix Art Museum

About 40 ensembles and accessories by designers including Gabrielle Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Jean Patou fill the Ellman Fashion Design Gallery, which comes complete with its own soundtrack created by Colin Columna. You can find your new favorite tune from the era -- the soundtrack is listed on the wall text.

"The 1920s was so much about the exuberance of the dance and music, I felt it was important to include that element in the exhibition," says Sewell. "I believe it is important to look at the clothes in the context of other elements in the culture and not in isolation."

 This was a truly modern age and with a change in women's role came a change in ensembles.The exhibit's display of magazine covers from the time portrays women playing tennis and golf in stylish outfits. Outfits for day-time activities allowed for a bit more freedom of movement for such activities riding in an automobile. Due to the black and white photographs and films of the era, you might be surprised to find many bold colors such as vivid reds and bright yellows along with bright patterns.

In addition to styles everyone associates with the era, with it's speakeasies and shorter hemlines, there are designs resulting from international trade."The exoticism of unique materials as well as style and pattern were influential in the 1920s," notes Sewell. "Asia, Africa and Egypt were centers of cross cultural influence."

With fabulous dresses like the "tour de force" blue sequined Chanel dress on display, it is easy to overlook the casual elegance in the day-to-day styles showcased, like the very wearable mushroom colored wool coat or the stylish yet simple hats of the day.

"The 1920s is the first truly modern era of clothing and forms the basis of the sensibility of the clothes we wear today," says Sewell. Yet it seems her favorite items are the more formal gowns and it is easy to see why -- they are magnificent.

"Certainly the work by Madeline Vionnet and the three evening gowns by Chanel are influential and important. The restraint of ornamentation and perfect proportion of the Chanel gowns is superior. The beauty of the Vionnet gown with its draped bias panels has an unparalleled grace."

Once again Sewell and Phoenix Art Museum assemble a strong, comprehensive grouping of lovely styles, and connect these fashions to tell a structured story of a lovely era of design. Modern Spirit: Fashion of the 1920s is on display through February 10, 2013 and the museum will host many lectures, gallery talks and films during the exhibit's run.

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Phoenix Art Museum

1625 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


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