On a recent trip to Georgia, USA, I made a stop in Athens to visit the Georgia Museum of Art, where the fashion exhibition Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor is currently on display.
Originally curated by Dennita Sewell of the Phoenix Art Museum, where it was on display in 2011, the exhibition traveled to the Georgia Museum of Art where it has been curated by Mary Koon. The exhibition is the largest fashion exhibition the Georgia Museum of Art has hosted to date, and was well worth traveling for.
Located in the temporary galleries on the second floor of the newly renovated museum, Fashion Independent explores the enduring style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor, who was born in 1910 and died in 2007. In 1939, while in her twenties, Taylor qualified to ski for the United States Olympic team in the 1940 Winter Games set in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the 1940 Winter Games were cancelled. During World War II, Taylor, who knew how to fly a plane, used her piloting skills to train US Air-Force cadets before their deployment overseas. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was an impressive accomplishment for a woman to learn to fly, albeit at such early age. Taylor’s ambition and success in doing so tells much about the kind of woman she was.
Following this early career in the air and on the slopes, Taylor pioneered the field of ski-wear for women, designing outfits which were quickly noticed and featured on the cover of Vogue. Taylor opened her own ski-wear boutique in Stowe, Virginia, where she met her second husband, oilman Vernon Taylor Jr. The couple became influential members in the social scene of Vail, Colorado. Taylor’s experience as a sportswear designer developed into a lifelong love of fashion, which resulted in a unique and impressive personal wardrobe of haute couture comprising pieces by Hubert Givenchy, Charles James, and Cristòbal Balenciaga, among others. Taylor’s personal fashion collection was gifted to the Phoenix Art Museum in 2008.
Now on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, the exhibition is arranged both thematically and by designers. The first three rooms of the exhibition feature an extensive biography and photographs of Ann Bonfoey Taylor. I think this is a wonderful way to introduce the exhibition, as many visitors may not know about Ann Bonfoey Taylor and her influence on the fashion world. This introduction also helps form a personal connection between the visitor and the exhibition. While I thoroughly enjoyed viewing the ensembles, I also loved learning about the woman behind the magnificent pieces on display. Taylor’s vitality and enthusiasm for fashion reminded me of classic American women like Jackie Kennedy, although Taylor’s wardrobe may have been just a little bit more daring!
The next room of the exhibition explores Taylor’s interest in military attire. Taylor did have a strong interest in both military attire and military themed fashion; while collecting vintage pieces, Taylor also designed and wore her own pieces. This section includes a series of helmets, some of which date back to the early 19th century, which she collected and occasionally wore. The following room was more in line with what I had expected: it featured numerous garments by American couturier Charles James, an exquisite gown by Mariano Fortuny, and one gown by James Galanos. Taylor’s interest in couture garments can be discerned within this room. Each piece was made to her specifications, often after attending couture fashion shows abroad. The wife of a Texas oil tycoon, Taylor was among few American women of the time who could not only afford to attend these shows, but also purchase these unique designs. Because of Taylor’s background in fashion, as well as her friendship with Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (which developed during Taylor’s time as a ski-wear designer), she was provided access to couture at its height.
The next room explores Taylor’s long time love of the outdoors and her consistently inventive attire for outdoor activities and sports. One display features numerous Hermès outfits while another shows bespoke riding gear and a large number of handmade riding boots. Across the room, Taylor’s adventurous spirit and love of travel is noticeable through the display of Louis Vuitton and Gucci luggage. According to the exhibition, Taylor never traveled lightly, and was always fashionably prepared for any event.
The last room of the exhibition features pieces by Cristòbal Balenciaga, Madame Grès, and Hubert Givenchy dating from the early 1960s on. This room confirms Taylor’s interest in and appreciation of well-crafted couture garments. I particularly enjoyed a simple black dress by Givenchy, a classic which could easily be worn in today.
Upon exiting the exhibition, a member of the security staff informed me of a film that accompanied the display. Nearly thirty minutes in length, the film was well worth the time. I learned more about Ann Bonfoey Taylor’s life as well as her love of fashion through recorded interviews with friends and family. It is apparent that Taylor was not only well dressed, but well-loved and dearly missed.
June 1 – September 15, 2013
Georgia Museum of Art
90 Carlton Street
Written by Jessica Schwartz
Jessica Schwartz, 26, graduated from the University of Georgia in 2012 with a Master’s of Science in Textiles, Merchandising and Interiors. Her studies focused on historic and cultural aspects of fashion, with an emphasis on investigating curatorial work within the field of fashion history. She is currently working as a freelance fashion writer and interning with the Craft + Design department at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following an internship in the Fashion department at the Victoria & Albert Museum and a thesis-related research trip to London, she began writing a scholarly blog Fashionable London, which focuses on fashion related-exhibitions and events as well as the fashion history of the United Kingdom.