Cleopatra is believed to have dressed according to where she traveled. The first “jetsetter” wore traditional Egyptian clothing in her homeland, and in Rome, added Roman garments and accessories to her looks. Even before then, fashion has been in a continued state of flux.
Fashion historians Harold Koda and Caroline Rennolds Milbank will present a visual exploration of brilliant style – from the inevitable and iconic “Best Dressed” (Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Babe Paley, Marella Agnelli ) to more unexpected and idiosyncratic examples of women in the arts.
Koda is a curator, author, and the former curator in charge of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where he directed an ambitious program of exhibitions and publications that extended the breadth of its audience and transformed the museological interpretation of fashion.
Milbank has written extensively on the history of fashion in her books, “Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs 1850-TODAY,” “Resort Fashion,” “The Couture Accessory,” “New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style,” and “Couture: The Great Designers.”
During the evening event, Koda will shed further light on four women – Tina Chow, Iris Apfel, Nan Kempner, and Jacqueline de Ribes – celebrated in his museum exhibitions at FIT and at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Milbank will touch on how women have presented themselves for the portrait artist, the photographer, and for grand public entrances from the stairway at the Opera Garner during the reign of the Empress Eugenie to the Met Gala of the recent past.
Do Savannah: Where do you see the future of fashion is heading to?
Milbank: “To paraphrase one of my favorite Johnny Mercer songs: When an irresistible force such as …. global conspicuous consumption meets an old immovable object like…. deepening concern for the future of our planet. You can bet as sure as you live. Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give. Clearly the current fashion system is outdated and will have to change.”
Koda: “The landscape of fashion is undergoing dramatic tectonic transformation. Until the recent past designers, editors, and merchants worked in a more or less unified system. With the internet and the proliferation of images on social media, that relatively cohesive vision has been subverted and destabilized. While this change does not mean the end of fashion, it does encourage the fragmentation of trends and the possibility of greater freedom in individual expression.”
Do: What defines good style?
Milbank: “Style is good when it is real – specific to and expressive of the wearer - and especially good when it seems effortless.”
Koda: “Good style for me is less about the subjectivity of taste than the understanding that how we dress is communication. It succeeds when what we wear conforms to the best and clearest expression of how we seek to be perceived.”
Do: Charleston and Savannah are often compared. You are Charleston-based so, are there any similarities between Charleston and Savannah in the fashion arena?
Milbank: “It is hard to see the fashions in either city for the tourists – who are generally dressed like over-sized toddlers. In Savannah, I see more students who are walking billboards for their own creativity, and in Charleston, more possess of glamorous wedding guests.”
Do: What is the biggest challenge for fashion designers based in the south? Is it the location?
Milbank: “For any designer with global brand aspirations, it is currently still most efficient to establish a base of operations in one of the major fashion week cities in order to attract the greatest amount of press/influencer attention and retail orders.”
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