In the last few years we have seen many museums digitalizing their costume archives and making them freely available to all of us. In the meantime, fashion exhibitions have multiplied, with institutions all over the world offering events related to costumes, textiles, and designers.
Though beautiful and clever, fashion exhibitions or digitalised images at times leave you passively staring: yes, you learn more about a garment and its history, the materials it was made of and even the previous owner who may have donated it, but, quite often, you are left with an exhibition catalogue, or with beautiful pictures that you can download for free and maybe share on social media or use to illustrate an essay if you're a researcher.
Click here and you will be able to see a selection of pieces from the museum costume and textile collection and download for free their patterns, created by theatrical costume designer and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professor Thomas John Bernard and assistant curator Clarissa M. Esguerra. This project actually started in 2011 as a sort of extension to a fashion exhibition held at the museum and it's continuing with patterns being added after more exciting exhibitions take place at LACMA.
The choice is wide and at present includes menswear with a Macaroni suit from 1770 and a zoot suit from the early 1940s, while women's wear boasts a 1790 redingote and lounging pajamas by Parisian couture house Callot Soeurs.
One of the most intriguing pieces remains a Japanese man's overcoat (Tonbi, 1925–35): based on the Western Inverness coat, it consists in a sleeveless overcoat with a hip-length shoulder cape with enlarged arms openings from the shoulder line to the waistline to accommodate the wide sleeves of a kimono.
This style was fashionable during the Taishō (1912–26) and early Shōwa (1926–89) periods among intellectuals, professionals, and the wealthy, who often added a Western style hat and walking stick or umbrella to their kimono ensemble.
The patterns on the LACMA site are very useful as they can help students experimenting and understating a bit better how certain historical pieces were constructed or how to create a specific silhouette and maybe add volume or alter proportions, or how cross-cultural influences generated innovations in fashion. But the patterns can also inspire amateurs to try their hand at a fashion project using scraps of fabrics or even paper (and maybe make very fashionable paper dolls...).
In a nutshell, LACMA should definitely be praised for encouraging people to actively learn more from their exhibitions, taking the themes and contents of their events further in an intelligent way.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos