February 20, 2015

Clothes tell a story. A dress may reveal the defining spirit of a particular period; an accessory can captures the craftsmanship of its maker. The upcoming exhibition High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection brings seminal pieces by some of the 20th century’s most important designers to the Legion of Honor and continues the Fine Arts Museums’ commitment to celebrating and collecting masterworks of couture.

The Museums’ costume and textile arts holdings are broad and diverse, containing more than 13,000 objects, including gowns, ensembles, and accessories, many of which represent landmarks in fashion history. The collection is especially strong in 20th-century couture, particularly from the post–World War II era, with outstanding pieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Christian Dior, Madame (Alix) Grès, and Yves Saint Laurent. 

These works of design show the ongoing shifts in the staging of self through fashion and the larger cultural significance of dress. For example, the Yves Saint Laurent “Refrain” dress for House of Dior can be seen as a harbinger of the youth-oriented culture and a predecessor of the A-line silhouette that typified clothing in the 1960s. The youthful dress from our collection will be on view alongside High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.

Find out more about our Textile Arts collection and don’t miss the upcoming exhibition at the Legion of Honor, High Style: The Brookyln Museum Costume Collection.

Image credits: 

Christóbal Balenciaga, ensemble (bodice, skirt, and belt), 1948. Silk bengaline and velvet. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. Eloise Heidland, 1982.18.1a–c

Yves Saint Laurent, evening dress, 1967. Beige silk and golden brown raffia; applied wood and brass beads. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. John N. Rosekrans Jr., 2012.42.138

Yves Saint Laurent for House of Dior, "Refrain" dress, underdress, and belt, 1958. Printed silk and organza. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Eleanor Christenson de Guigné Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigné III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman, 1985.44.456a–c

Christian Dior, "Venus" ballgown, 1949. Silktulle, embroidered with palettes, pearls, and rhinestones; silk inner skirt; horsehair stiffening. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of I, Magnin & Company, 1949, 49.25.1a–c

Christian Dior, evening ensemble (top, skirt, belt, and cap), 1948. Iridescent blue beads on black velvet. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Bequest of Jeanne Magnin, 1987.25.1a–c