Enduring Style

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A new André Leon Talley-curated exhibit at the SCAD Museum of Art celebrates fashion’s most enduring icon—the little black dress.

Ralph Lauren Collection, Fall 2011: Black sable butterfly-embroidered evening dress. Photo by Adam Kuehl, courtesy of SCAD.

Fall 2012 has been heralded as the season that the little black dress will make its comeback.  A new exhibit at the SCAD Museum of Art, curated by SCAD trustee and Vogue contributing editor, André Leon Talley, proves that black never goes out of style but is ever-evolving because of its versatility.

In anticipation of the Sept. 28 opening, Laurie Ann Farrell, SCAD’s Director of Exhibitions, gives Savannah magazine a preview of this groundbreaking exhibition.

When I think “little black dress,” I still conjure Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina in that Givenchy dress.  Will we see any historical reference to that “a-ha!” moment for this enduring fashion icon?  

This exhibition demonstrates that the LBD has not evolved from just one iconic moment. André Leon Talley states that “as relevant as the Givenchy dress is in terms of fashion history, in cinema and to people, today individuality rules in fashion. This show expresses the idea of freedom, individuality, choice of individuals.”

With the advent of the Internet and social media, everyone makes their own history. Whatever you choose as your little black dress, be it big or small, you can create your own Audrey Hepburn moment.

The Commes des Garcons Spring 2012 black lace dress that Marc Jacobs wore to the 2012 Met Gala. Photo by Adam Kuehl, courtesy of SCAD.

From working on this exhibition with André Leon Talley, what have you discovered about the phenomenon of the LBD?  Any surprises? 

Working on this show has opened my eyes to the expansive history and innumerable ways one can interpret the LBD. The earliest dress in the show is a 1907 Mariano Fortuny Delphos dress, and there are numerous contemporary dresses from 2012. The innovative styles, contemporary materials and variety of occasions where one could wear these dresses are limitless.  

The ladies’ lounge scene from The Women inspired the inaugural ALT Gallery exhibition.  Other than the common thread of the LBD, was there another film scene or reference point for the design of this exhibition that illuminates the context?  

André Leon Talley was going through SCAD’s costume collection around the time of the opening of the SCAD Museum of Art last October. He started pulling out dresses that he liked and putting them on a rack together. At a certain moment we realized that we had an amazing rack of LBDs that had been donated to the university by his friends and contacts, and the show was built up from selections from SCAD’s collection and lenders.

In a way, the LBD is a reflection of André Leon Talley’s personal narrative of a lifetime of work in fashion and style, living in Paris and going to haute couture shows since 1975. He has created this exhibition through rich layers of his own personal experience with design houses, couture clients and friends who wear and order the clothes. André’s selections involved reaching out to designers and friends who collect couture, as well as people he accompanied to fittings in New York and Paris.  Provenance was a carefully considered aspect of his curatorial process. He included exquisite looks that he saw people wearing at parties, runway shows and special events.

Rather than citing a specific popular culture moment, the long bench in our show featuring a group of seated figures suggests women seated at a ball or in a grand drawing room at a party. Or, it could be women lined up at a beautiful night club or a ballroom at a country house in England. The installation leaves room for the viewer to make their own connections and interpretations.

Diane von Furstenburg, Matador Wrap Dress from the La Movida Collection Fall 2007. Photo by Adam Kuehl, courtesy of SCAD.

Considering the fickleness of fashion, how is it that the LBD has such staying power?

The LBD imbues a woman with confidence. Diane von Furstenburg says, “The LBD is a friend in your closet.”

André goes on to say that the LBD “is a dress that one leans on for a moment of empowerment, a moment of daring provocativeness to stand out as well as to blend in.”

The power of the LBD all depends on the individual wearer.  There isn’t a prescribed code that can explain its longevity. The show celebrates texture, line, silhouette and personality through the range of dresses on view. The marvelous technical innovation coming out of the evolution of the little black dress is the use of modern fabrics, such as neoprene.

Ralph Lauren Collection Fall 2011 black silk embroidered art deco evening dress (Chrysler bldg). Photo by Adam Kuehl, courtesy of SCAD.

Can you tell us more about the partnership with M•A•C Cosmetics?  

M•A•C Cosmetics has been an incredibly generous partner on this project.  They’re supporting the exhibition in Savannah and Paris and are very committed to supporting the myriad ways that this exhibition will enhance the education of our students.

Laurie Ann Farrell in her little black dress. Photo courtesy of SCAD.

How many LBDs do you have in your closet? 

I have just the right number of LBDs—something perfect for every occasion.