Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Balenciaga and Spain

with 3 comments

De Young Museum

Hamish Bowles, Editor at Large, curator, and cape-wearer.

On my most recent visit home to San Francisco, I had a museum day with my mom.   My mom was insistent we see the Hamish-Bowles-curated Balenciaga and Spain at the De Young Museum.  My mom had already seen it (bought the catalogue), and had been raving to me about its unconventional display.  The clothes are integrated into a background of paintings (one by Miro, a reproduction of Velazquez’s Las Meninas), photographs of the Spanish landscape and matadors; sometimes lively flamenco music accompanies the designs.  I wanted to glean something from the exhibition to point out to my mom that she might not have noticed.  This came from the object labels.  Each label included the requisite materials, date, lending organization, and donor.  However, in some cases an additional “worn by” line was added.

Who were some of the women wearing Cristobal Balenciaga’s bolero jackets and flamenco-inspired gowns?

There were garments worn by Vogue editor Bettina Ballard; automobile heiress Thelma Chrysler Foy; singer, actress, and arts advocate Kitty Carlisle Hart; Philadelphia society lady and jogging advocate Julia Henry; maverick shoe designer Beth Levine; Neiman Marcus fashion buyer Bert de Winter;  and possible Nazi conspirator and castle-renovator Fern Bedaux.

Gown worn by hard-core jogger, Julia Henry.

More google-able ladies included: Doris Duke, heiress, horticulturalist, art collector, philanthropist and surfer; Gloria Guinness, married first to a von Furstenberg, second to a grandson of the king of Egypt, and third to a Guinness (she was also possibly a spy); Mitzah Bricard, Christian Dior’s muse; Elizabeth Arden, cosmetics company founder (one of the wealthiest women in the world); Eugenia Niarchos, third and fifth wife of Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos (he also married her sister, Athina, who was previously married to another shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis); and Hollywood great Ava Gardner, wife of Frank Sinatra, and lover of Spanish bullfighting (she had an affair with the matador, Luis Miguel Dominguín).  Googling these people was more entertaining than TMZ!

Princesses don’t always wear tiaras, sometimes they wear berets.

Three berets worn by Princess Lilian of Belgium were featured in the show; seven ensembles worn by Claudia Heard de Osborne; two worn by Pauline de Rothschild, who has a wall quote in the exhibition; and “best dressed woman in the world” Countess Mona Bismarck, who allegedly was so distraught when she heard of Balenciaga’s death she took for her bedroom for 3 days.

Which one of these jackets was not designed by Balenciaga?

A man is mentioned in several of the “worn by” labels: the bull-fighter Juan Belmonte. He wore several colatas (matador’s pigtails) and a traje de luces (bullfighting costume) presented in the exhibition.  These garments and accessories were not designed by Balenciaga; they are included to show Balenciaga’s influences.  There is no strong delineation with these object labels to explicitly state they were not designed by Balenciaga.  A small technicality, but I am picky.


There are also garments “worn by” local ladies.  A fuchsia cocktail dress from the summer of 1966 (above far left), that is in the museum’s collection, was donated and “worn by” Eleanor Christenson de Guigne, a Hillsborough recluse.  Another major Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco donor’s name appeared in the exhibition.  A day suit in charcoal wool from 1964 was “worn by” Dodie Rosekrans.  Dodie is a recent obsession of mine.  She was an eccentric art collector and major donor to the museum; she and her husband contributed major buckets of ducats to retrofit the Legion of Honor after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  Dodie recently passed away, and came to my attention because Sotheby’s prominently featured works from her collection in its May Impressionist and Modern, and Contemporary evening sales.

Dodie, in fur, with a lucite cane!

She had a mansion in San Francisco, an apartment in Paris, AND a Palazzo in Venice, as well as a huge property in Woodside, California, called Runnymede, which houses a humungous collection of outdoor sculptures.  I’ve driven by the property so many times as a kid I never thought to think of who owned it.  Her art collection, jewelry, etc. will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s over the next few years, but there is no word yet of what will become of Runnymede.  I really hope its preserved and made more open to the public.  It has an amazing collection and is in an setting.

– H.I.

I couldn’t help but post these completely gratuitous images I found of the interiors of Dodie’s Venetian palazzo (more Dodie and more details here).  I have no words!

Interiors by Tony Duquette.

…and this:

And it’s on the Grand Canal, no big thing.

3 Responses

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  1. Dodie’s frames and cane are heinous. Speaking of anus, I’m in love with Hamish.


    June 27, 2011 at 6:37 PM

  2. […] sketches from the 1950s into the house’s fall 2013 collection.  Vogue’s Editor-at-Large, Hamish Bowles was charmed by the dainty flowers, pesky-looking birds, and glamorous beauty profiles that accented […]

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