Monday, December 12, 2016

THE MARQUIS de LAFAYETTE: A TRUE FRIEND OF THE CAUSE (Lafayette and the Antislavery Movement) Review by Polly Guerin

The Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown by Jean-Baptiste Le Paon 1782, oil on canvas
It is popularly known that in 1780 the French frigate, the Hermione, brought the  Marquis de Lafayette to America with exciting news of renewed French aid for the faltering American Revolution and a replicate of the frigate came to the United States in 2015  to celebrate the fact. Significantly, in addition, according to historians without the French Alliance, America would have lost its war of independence. However,  it is intriguing that the youthful twenty-three year old Lafayette's contributions in the areas of politics, diplomacy, and the military have received scholarly and public recognition, yet his role as an ardent abolitionist has not received the same kind of attention. Now in a timely manner a new exhibition offers a more comprehensive look at the man who was a "hero of two worlds." Image: The Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown by Jean-Baptiste Le Paon 1782, oil on canvas. Courtesy Lafayette College Art Collection.
     The Grolier Club takes a giant step forward in history to focus Lafayette's sustained efforts in France, the United States, and South America on behalf of the abolition of slavery. The exhibition, THE MARQUIS de LAFAYETTE, A TRUE FRIEND OF THE CAUSE: Lafayette and the Antislavery Movement is on view through February 4, 2017 with free lunchtime tours from 1-2 pm on December 14, January 11 and 18, and February 1, and are conducted by curators Olga Anna Duhl and Diane Windham Shaw. No registration is required, free admission. Where: 47 East 60th Street
     JUST WHO WAS THE MARQUIS TO GAIN SUCH NOTORIETY? Although the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) fought in the American War of Independence, he was a friend of the Native Americans, defended the rights of French Protestants and Jews during the French Revolution, supported the emancipation movement of people of Poland, Ireland, Italy, Greece and South America, and promoted the ideas and causes of women. Most significantly, he remained throughout his life a fervent advocate of the abolition of slavery and the African slave trade, earning the recognition of prominent British abolition is, Thomas Clarkson, as "a true friend of the cause."
    THE EXHIBITION AT LARGE: This is an exhibition not to be missed for its historical record traces Lafayette's first ideals of liberty and equality.  Early on Lafayette learned that the revolutionary era hardly benefited all members of society. In fact, one of the most daunting paradoxes of that era, which became a source of reflection and action for him, was between the national independence of the newly formed United States and the practice of slavery and the slave trade.  His first encounter with slaves was on the South Carolina coast. 
     Highlights of his role in service with the Continental Army are revealed in letters to his mentor, George Washington, written from Valley Forge, Newport and Virginia during the Yorktown Campaign, where Lafayette writes of the intelligence gathered by one of his spies, James, an enslaved African American. On view are many original artifacts including a highly significant letter written by Lafayette to Washington requesting his partnership in a venture to free slaves.
     Lafayette's complicated story includes his membership in the French Society of the Friends of Blacks. On view are Publications of the Society as well as stunning French prints of the American Revolution as well as the decree abolishing slavery in the French colonies.
    Ta Ta darlings!!!  Lafayette is in town for a short sojourn. Drawn from Lafayette College's rich collections of 18th and 19th century rare books, manuscripts, prints and objects, some of which are on public view for the firs time, the approximately 130 works in the exhibition also include loans from Cornell University and the New York Historical Society.  FAN MAIL ALWAYS WELCOME at Visit Polly's other Blogs at on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry.

Monday, December 5, 2016

BLACK FASHION DESIGNERS at Museum at FIT: Review By Polly Guerin

The often unrecognized impact that designers of African descent have had on fashion garners significant homage to the contribution of black designers at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. 
        Always at the forefront of fashion FIT takes a lead position presenting the exhibit, BLACK FASHION DESIGNERS, from December 6, 2016 to May 16, 2017.
      Although there have been exhibitions on individual black designers, Duro Olowu, Zule Bet and Patrick Kelly to name a few, this is the first major exhibition in many years that highlights the global history of black fashion designers from the 1950s to the present. To their credit, all the objects on display are part of The Museum at FIT.
Duro Clowu, ensemble, Fall 2012
Nigerian designer, Duro Olowu's enthusiasm for fashion was inspired by the unexpected mix of fabrics, texture and draping techniques of the clothing worn by the women that surrounded him. Following in the footsteps of his father, after a stint as a lawyer in Nigeria,  he returned to London to pursue his true vocation, starting his eponymous label at the end of 2004. His first collection was an instant success with fashion editors and buyers worldwide. Pictured Left: Duro Olowu, ensemble, Fall 2012, Gift of Duo Olowu.
     The signature hallmark of his designs includes, alluring silhouettes, sharp tailoring, original prints juxtaposed with luxurious vintage fabrics in "off beat: yet harmonious combinations.  His first collection was an international sell out including Barney's in New York, Harrods in London and Maria Luisa in Paris.  He won the "New Designer of the Year Award' at the British Fashion Awards, the only designer to have ever done so without a catwalk show.
Patrick Kelly dress, Fall/Winter 1986, France
This ground breaking exhibition features approximately 75 fashion by more than 60 designers. Not to be missed, among them I remember Patrick Kelly, who I met in Paris when I was covering the Pret a Portez (ready-to-wear) collections  Sadly Kelly died of AIDS after a short, brilliant career. But his legacy of button accents, zebra prints, clingy knits and safety-pin-trims lives on. Henri Bendel, Bloomgdale's and Bergdorf Goodman were just a few of the high-end stores that sold his designs. And he did it in his signature blue denim overalls. Imagine that, a uniform reminiscent of his humble beginnings in Vicksburg, Mississippi. When you look at his shapes, silhouettes, color, and his playful use of trimmings and whimsical treatments you realize that his take on fashion was very modern and is relevant even today.
       Ta Ta Darlings!!!  The exhibit opens tomorrow, FREE admission always. Where: The Museum at FIT, Shirley Goodman Research Center, Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, southwest corner Fan Mail welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the link that interest you in the left hand column on visionary men, women determined to succeed, the fashion historian and poetry from the heart.