"The Little Black Dress" - A Sartorial Phenomenon
The term “little black dress,” as it is often used today in fashion, was first adopted in 1926 in an American Vogue illustration of a simple, long-sleeved black dress in crepe de chine by Coco Chanel, which the magazine had labelled “Ford,” in reference to the reliable Model-T of the era available only in black. At the time, black dresseswere mainly associated with the war and mourning. Chanel’s innovation was to make it effortlessly chic, a new “uniform” for the modern woman of the time. Soon, other designers would follow, including Bill Blass in New York and by the mid-1930s, the term was being used to advertise an essential staple of any chic lady’s wardrobe.
“The Little Black Dress” exhibition, now showing at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture and curated by André Leon Talley, editor at large for Numéro Russia and contributing editor at Vogue, charts the historic and contemporary significance of the sartorial phenomenon, showcasing the diversity of style, as well as fabrics used to create many shades of black.
Featuring approximately 50 looks, the exhibition includes a few historic pieces, such as Mariano Fortuny’s 1907 pleated silk, a Cristóbal Balenciaga's baby doll dress from 1957, and Madame Grès’ silk crêpe de chine dress from 1977, though most of the pieces on display are more recent, including a Stella McCartney's embroidered lace gown worn by Rihanna to the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, a Tom Ford dress made with sheer Chantilly lace for Lady Gaga, and the Comme des Garcons’ embroidered lace shirtdress Marc Jacobs wore to the 2012 Met Gala.
Talley said the exhibition was designed “to showcase the divergent and individual manifestations of the little black dress across this century and the last.”
He added the inspiration for the exhibition, organized by the SCAD Museum of Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, started with a simple sleeveless black haute couture dress of wool, trimmed in silk, designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel Haute Couture in 2006.
The exhibition is on view at Mona Bismarck American Center for art and culture in Paris until September 22.