Monday, December 14, 2015


This "jewel box" of a room, the opulent Gilded Age interior called, the Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opens tomorrow, December 15 and continues through May 1, 2016. Visitors will gain new insights into the luxurious and artistic interiors found in New York's wealthiest households in the 19th century, which reveal the artistic embellishments, the decorative arts of a period in history when the tycoons could afford every luxury. 
    It is a rare surviving commission by New York-based cabinetmaker and interior decorator
George A. Schastey for art collector and philanthropist Arabella Worsham.
    The Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing  Room is a quintessential expression of the Aesthetic movement, which was in vogue during the late 1870s and early 1880s. The room comes from the     4 West 54th Street home of Arabella, mistress (and late, wife) of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington.

     This dressing room may not be every woman's dream room but it deserves close examination for the sheer breath of design elements are quite intriguing. Careful study of the ornate marquetry ornamentation are executed in satinwood and purpleheart with mother-of-pearl inlays that reveal a multitude of sea shell and pearl motifs that reference Worsham's great love of pearl jewelry.          Other elements of design focus on a woman's personal accouterments with depictions of hand mirrors, scissors, hair combs, brooches, necklaces and earrings--all suggesting the dressing room's intended use.The private room, intended solely for Worsham's use, is a totally cohesive artistic interior with intricate woodwork, a built-in wardrobe, two full-length dressing mirrors, a delicate dressing table and chairs.
   The Rockefeller connection: In 1884, Worsham sold the house, complete with furnishings to John D, Rockefeller, who made few change to it and gifted it to The Museum of the City of New York after Rockefeller's death in 1937. The room has found new life at the Metropolitan, where it was recently conserved and identified as the work of Schastey and is located Gallery 742 in the American Wing. It takes its place with a suite of American interiors arranged in historical sequence.

Gallery 746 features furniture from several other rooms of the Worsham-Rockefeller house, notably the Moorish reception room and a bedroom.
    Herter Brothers and the William H. Vanderbilt House, Gallery 743
     An adjoining gallery displays works by Schastey's best-known competitor Herter Brothers. The installation is Herter Brother's most important commission for the William H. Vanderbilt House (on Fifth between 51st and 52nd streets). Among the new discoveries being shown for the first time are a pair of rosewood side chairs for Vanderbilt's library; a pair of gilded and mother-of-pearl armchairs and gilded console table from one of the most sumptuous rooms of the day.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!! The artisan workmanship in the Arabella Worsham dressing room is worth closer examination, do go and see for yourself.  Fan mail always welcome at pollytalknyc@gmail.
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Monday, December 7, 2015

DENIM FASHION FRONTIER at The Museum at FIT: Review by Polly Guerin

Robert Cavalli, ensemble, embroidered denim, 2002
How does anyone explain the phenomenon of Denim fashion? Yves Saint Laurent in 1981, defined it all, "I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans, the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity---all I hope for in my clothes."
     From workwear to haute couture denim may be the most popular fabric in the world yet it continues to make a fashion statement even greater today. For an in depth look at how denim has captured its place of superiority in fashion check out this museum exhibit.
     Image: Robert Cavalli, ensemble, embroidered denim, Spring 2002, Italy, Gift of Robert Cavalli. Photograph courtesy of The Museum at FIT.
     The Museum at FIT's DENIM FASHION FRONTIER, at The Fashion Institute of Technology explores the multifaceted history of denim and its relationship with high fashion from the 19th century to the present. The recently opened exhibition features more than 70 objects from the museum's permanent collection, many of which have never been on view.
    Of course, we all are familiar with Levi Strauss's historical story as the first purveyor of blue jeans, but the even before that fact, denim was already being used to create workwear of all kinds. 
Walking Suit, striped denim, circa 1915 
The exhibit DENIM FASHION FRONTIER takes a wider view and juxtapositions examples of historic garments with workwear and high fashion, street style, commercial garments, and menswear and women's wear.  By the start of the 20th century denim had begun to appear in prison uniforms and naval uniforms, and then in fashionable women's wear during World War I. 
Image: Walking Suit, striped denim, circa, 1915, Courtesy of The Museum at FIT.
     Two distinct genres of lifestyle clothing helped link denim to the romance of the Old West and the American spirit: "Western Wear emerged parallel to the booming popularity of "cowboy" films and dude ranch vacationing while "play clothes" were designed to outfit fashionable men and women  who engaged in leisure activities.
    World War II ushered in "Rosie the Riveter" who became the poster girl of the home front, and simultaneously a new market blossomed with practical and fashion clothing for the affluent housewife, which included Claire McCardell's denim "Popover" dress.
     The influence of films also contributed to the denim craze like the 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, but the denim's worn by James Dean caused denim to be equated with teenage rebellion and delinquency.  About this time the Denim Council was established to combat these negative connotations.  I would also like to note that public relations guru Terry Mayer promoted denim for a number of years with a strong public relations campaign and fashion shows.
     Denim took on a different persona in the 1960's and identified with hippies whose trends outlived he movement, such as bell-bottom jeans, embroidered and patched denim, and faded, pre-worn jeans.  
Comme des Garcons (Junya Watanabe) dress
Who would ever thought that denim would become a luxury fabric?  Luxury items on fashion's runway included Gucci, Comme des Garcon, Katherine Hamnett, Gianfranco Ferre and Yves Sain Laurent, and others.

    Emma McClendon, assistant curator of costume and exhibition, and curator of DENIM FASHION'S FRONTIER wrote in the program notes,"Today, contemporary designers often incorporate denim through postmodern pastiche and deconstruction, taking apart classic denim garments and putting them back together as historic homages." 
Image: Comme des Garcons (Junya Watanabe) dress, repurposed denim, spring 2002, museum purchase. Photography by William Palmer.
    The exhibition is on view through May 7, 2016. FREE and open to the public at The Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue and 27th Street. Hours Tuesday-Friday noon-8pm and Saturday, 10 am-5pm. The museums information line: 212.217.4558.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I once owned a denim dress, but  now I'm sorry I gave it away.  Denim Fashion's Frontier is a trip back to nostalgic memories of how denim played such an important part in fashion history and the lifestyle of the global population.  Fan mail always welcome Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the link in the left-hand column to the Blog of your interest.