The de Young Museum in San Francisco is presenting an all-new fashion exhibition that’s been highly-anticipated for months. Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style promises a deep-dive into women’s local fashion history through the work of over 50 fashion designers drawn from the Fine Art Museums’ permanent collections. See it starting Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.
San Francisco’s position on the Pacific Rim, as well as its reputation for being on the cutting edge of culture, make for an exciting collection of iconic clothing from over the decades. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) have accumulated one of the country’s best collections of 20th- and 21st-century women’s costume, much of which was donated by Bay Area philanthropists and will be on display for the very first time.
FAMSF has also included a new augmented reality try-on experience as part of the exhibition. They’ve partnered with Snap Inc. to install AR mirrors in the museum, where visitors can see how three different extravagant evening ensembles would look on them. The outfits are exquisite works by French designer Yves Saint Laurent, Chinese-American Bay Area-based designer Kaisik Wong, and Italian designer Valentino. This is the first time a US museum has showcased Snap’s AR mirrors.
Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style
The exhibition begins in the early 20th century, when the city was recovering from the catastrophic earthquake and fire of 1906. The local attitude of the time was one of reasserting and reviving San Francisco’s international status, manifested through imported French fashion in particular. Guests will see a collection of early French designs including rare gowns from Callot Soeurs, a leading fashion house from the 1910s and 1920s.
International trade grew exponentially in San Francisco during subsequent decades, leading to the rise of department stores in the mid-1900s. Socialites kept up with the city’s savoir-faire with European haute couture gowns, cocktail dresses, and evening attire. “The little black dress” will have its own dedicated section featuring Karl Lagerfield, Oscar de la Renta, and Valentino.
San Francisco has long been a place of experimentation and radicalism, meaning that avant-garde fashions are another essential part of the past century’s discourse. See memorable works by Japanese designers including Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake accompanied by a section investigating cultural appropriation by Western designers.
Finally, a section dedicated to “power suits” examines the city’s history of uplifting working women. Similarly, you’ll see a selection of shoes from the Museums’ collection to demonstrate how footwear establishes the “wearer’s sense of self.” Here we can appreciate how the city’s economic growth and development is intertwined with Bay Area fashion evolution as a whole.
Fashion at the de Young Museum
Fashioning San Francisco comes on the heels of several wildly successful fashion exhibitions from FAMSF. Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy drew over 130,000 visitors in just 18 weeks at the Legion of Honor in 2021, making it one FAMSF’s most popular fashion exhibitions of the decade. Other recent displays include Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love (2021) and Contemporary Muslim Fashions (2018).
These unforgettable fashion exhibitions all come from the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts, which contains works spanning nearly three millennia from 125 countries. The de Young in particular is known for post-WWII era couture works.
“The Fine Arts Museums’ costume collection is one of the strongest in the country, advanced over decades by generous gifts from Bay Area residents,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of FAMSF. “Likewise, the museum is renowned for its vibrant and wide-ranging fashion exhibitions. As the city’s museum, we are now thrilled to present stunning selections from our costume collection in an exhibition that examines the city’s evolving style ethos. Fashioning San Francisco is a rich presentation that asserts the case that San Francisco does, and has always had, style.”
Remember to visit Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style from January 20-August 11, 2024 at the de Young Museum.
All images: Installation view of Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style, de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2024. Photograph by Gary Sexton. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco