Sunday, March 27, 2011

In a Word: COLOR!

The Sonia Delaunay Retrospective


Valerie says: Just a few days before spring, and just a few days before New York trees began showing tiny bursts of green at the tips of their branches, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum opened its exhibition on Sonia Delaunay, whose work is characterized by its bold justaposition of riotous colors. Delaunay, known as both a painter and textile designer (and married to painter Robert Delaunay), is one of a small exclusive club of women artists whose work is given as much credit as that of her male peers. Particularly after a winter of freezing temperatures, and repeated snowfall punctuated only by rain, when a woman with a broken wrist dare not put so much as a nose out of doors, this was a very welcome event indeed. Shown above is "Colored Rhythm", oil on canvas, dated 1946, but the exhibition focuses on Delaunay's textile and costume designs. Below is a mere hint at the breadth of the exhibition and of her the scope of her work.

NOTE: This week, we're devoting the first half of our posting to the exhibition itself and the second half to the people who attended the opening. (Valerie reports on the artist and her oeuvre and Jean reports on the glitz.)

Here is Delaunay herself in a dress of her own design.

Here is a silk satin dress with metallic embroidery, dated around 1925 - 28, that appears in the first room of the exhibition.

Here are four highly imaginative dress designs for daring women of the time.

Delaunay was also commissioned to design costumes for movies. This extraordinary movie still is taken from "Le P'tit Parigot", 1926. This alone makes you want to see the movie! She also worked for Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.

This coat, wool embroidery on a wool base, was made for Gloria Swanson. Click on the photo for a better look at the texture.

We both fell in love with this knitted swimsuit in the exhibition. The colors and shape are great.

Here are two models wearing some of Delaunay's beachwear designs, dated 1928.

Here are four additional Delaunay beachwear designs.

An entire room was devoted to textile designs. This design, called simply "B53", shows elements of both Bauhaus and Wiener Werkstatte, neither of which Delaunay belonged to. Both movements were prominent during the period Delaunay was active, and both shared her passion for bold graphics and interlocking colors.

In one room, there was a design on yellow with large red, black and green dots. I mentioned to Susan Brown, the exhibition's curator and (fortunately for me!) my tour guide, that it looked exactly like an Issey Miyake design from several years ago, shown above. Ms. Brown replied that in fact Miyake had done a line based on Delauney designs. Time for an AHA! moment.

For several years, Delaunay had her own gallery/shop, called Atelier Simultane (simultaneity was the word used to describe the juxtaposition of many colors at the same time), where she sold all sorts of goods and accessories of her own design. Unfortunately, she found it to be unprofitable, and closed it after several years. What a great storefront!

And for the piece de resistance, here is Delauney in a 1925 Citroen B12 of her own design.


Jean says: On March 17th, we had the great opportunity to attend the opening of the Sonia Delaunay exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. By chance, both of us chose feathered chapeaux, but that's where the similarities ended. While Valerie chose an ethereal, frothy salmon-colored straw hat with delicate wispy pink feathers to accent her graphic kimono, I chose a black coq-feathered 'take no prisoners' number to highlight my ninja warrior look. I did make one fashion concession in homage to Ms. Delaunay and incorporated a geometric yellow and black bag into my ensemble. (Does anyone remember John Belushi's SNL bumble bee outfit and his ninja warrior routine? Am I rockin' the John Belushi look or what?) Viewing tip: Click on any of the photos (especially the black and white sketch) to enlarge.

This photo of the artist at work shows how she incorporated her designs into her everyday life.

Jean says: I managed to discreetly take two photos before security informed me of the "no photographs" rule. Luckily, if the camera is pointed away from the art, we were allowed to photograph each other and the other guests!

Jean says: Here's another of my contraband photographs -- of one of Sonia Delaunay's sketches which captures the line and shape of the clothing during her heyday. There were wonderful photographs of her and of other young women wearing her designs scattered throughout the second floor exhibition space. My favorites included the one above of two flappers in her wonderful one-piece bathing costumes and the other was the one of Sonia in her convertible Citroen painted in one of her designs (also above).

Jean says: We ran into Tziporah Salamon, who was channeling her best Sonia Delaunay look and fashion illustrator and photographer Sergio Baradat ( Tziporah's attention to detail is amazing. Even her socks were patterned to match her outfit. (You'll just have to trust me on this. The very sweet volunteer who took this photo failed to do a full length shot. There are apparently limits to how much one may impose oneself on total strangers.

Jean says: Tove Hermanson, fashion culturist and writer, made a beeline for us as soon as she entered the reception. Needless to say, she was hard to miss in her wonderfully accessorized red ensemble. Her card reads: "How fashion intersects politics, economics, gender, & pop culture:,,". Since she was very aware of us and our blog, we think she should consider adding "ageism" to her list of fashion intersections. [Valerie says: I would say geriatrics, since ageism is politically incorrect, and possibly grounds for law suits. Hey, are we two geriatrix???]

Jean says: Despite a couple of minor camera malfunctions by my beloved Pentax, Valerie was able to snap this photograph of this fabulous redhead with me in the first floor reception area just before she entered the elevator to view the exhibit. I love how she accesssorized her black outfit with her colorful little shoulder bag. You can get a better view of my hat in this photo taken against a light background. (Doesn't it look sort of like demonic Mickey Mouse ears, if Mickey were part vulture? Love that! Hey, Valerie - does this inch me ever closer to being abandoned on an ice floe? Avid readers know of my love -- and Valerie's aversion to -- hats with ears, or with appendages that look like ears, etc.) (Valerie says: I LOVE this hat. I draw the line when I can just about see a place to put a hearing aid. As for the ice floe, just last week I did as Jean pleaded with me - you're dangerously close to the ice floe, I told her. I warned her that I would NOT be seen with her if she wore a certain pair of shoes. When, a few days later, I saw the shoes on her [she flaunted them - she just about dared me to find an ice floe!], I saw the merits of the shoes and withdrew the ice floe threat. Rather than express relief or surprise or joy at my change of heart, Jean laughed at what she called a left-handed compliment. Can I get a witness? Can I get a witness? You know how it is when a woman says "Does this dress make my butt look big?", and a good friend / spouse will say 'Nooooooooooooo' if (s)he knows what's good for him/her? Same thing here. When Jean says "Put me out of my misery if I ever dress like THAT", she means "But obviously if I wear THAT it's because it's fabulous, so back off.")

Jean says: I think museum shows that feature clothing and textile designers attract a very different crowd from those featuring painters. While it's never good to generalize, the latter often involve starving artist types with paint-spattered jeans, while the former include individuals who take special care to dress in keeping with the designer's style. Valerie's wonderfully patterned kimono captured the spirit and look of Sonia's geometric designs. Likewise, a fellow guest, Mrs. Weissmann, appeared in this gorgous jacket which incorporated the color palette of Sonia's circular and swirling patterned fabrics and paintings. On a more serious note, I love this photo because it also highlights Valerie's vintage deco handbag with bakelite clasp from the period.

Jean says: Valerie and I met this wonderful lady at the exhibit. While it did not surprise us that she was an artist or that she had designed the hat she was wearing (in Delaunay style), we were touched to learn that she had actually known Sonia and had worn the hat to her memorial service. The pattern appears above and below the brim. It was in pristine condition and quite lovely. Valerie concurs: it was fabulous!

Valerie with Matilda McQuaid, deputy curatorial director and head of the textiles department at Cooper-Hewitt. Textile lovers owe a lot to Matilda, who has a long history of putting together some of the best textile exhibitions in New York City.

Jean says: Leigh Wishner, who works at Cora Ginsburg, LLC, wore a black and white patterned dress and a great resin necklace. She was accompanied by her POSSELQ, who was kind enough to pose for my photograph. Valerie says: usually when I see Leigh, she's wearing a fabulous vintage Mexican skirt. She makes them all look stunning.

Valerie says: Midori Sato, who works in conservation for Cooper Hewitt, is shown here in a dress of her own design. The picture doesn't do it justice. It's fabulous! Midori should have a second life as a dress designer. As Jean mentioned earlier, she and I are always trying for the head to toe photo; people who kindly offer to take pictures for us are only concerned with our smiling faces. SIGH!

Valerie says: this was my favorite couple of the evening. We women often dress for the occasion, but for a man to willingly - enthusiastically - dress for the occasion is a rare treat to be savored. Everything they're wearing is wonderful, but the real prize winner needs a photo of its own...

Here is a close-up of the gent's shoes. They're needlepoint, and notice that they are not left-right mirror images. The gentleman told me he commissioned them for his fortieth birthday, which he wrily added was a long time ago. It only occurred to me a looong time after I'd taken the picture to wonder whether he'd done the needlework himself, or designed and commissioned it, or bought it as a scrap, and whether it was period fabric - possibly designed by Ms. Delaunay????? All sorts of questions arose. Too late to ask, of course - as so often happens to so many of us.

Jean is wearing a black vintage 1930's feathered hat, a yellow and black Issey Miyake bag, Brigitte harem skirt, Kyodan jacket, Trippen geta platoform boots, vintage eyeglass frames and bakelite rings, black coral ball and brass bird earrings by Kirsten Hawthorne.

Valerie is wearing an unlabeled vintage ('50s?) pink net hat with pink feathers sewn down in a circular pattern; a vintage ('40s?) kimono with an interpretation of a Delaunay design; a vintage (late '70s) pink tussah silk trapunto sash (which traditional wearers of kimono will be too polite to laugh out loud about) and Cole Haan / Nike shoes (ditto; and they would also be taken aback by the hat). Still sporting the splint, and Andy's Marilyn over it.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this very, very special exhibition - everyone looks so well turned out but you two definitely stole the show!! I have never seen such huge polka dots on fabric before - SD was a legend. xo

  2. I am in LOVE with that gentleman's needlepoint shoes! I love your posts that feature these wonderful events and openings so that I can live vicariously through your stylish and inspiring social life. We do what we can here in London, Ontario, Canada, but there is no equivalent of you two fierce and fabulous fashionistas

  3. I'm delighted to have met you both (and at such a fabulous event), and to be featured in one of my favorite blogs! Though it's not on my card (the list of topics I'm interested in gets very long very fast!), I do write about age-- youth and maturity. One of my favorite articles is about grey hair as a social statement: . I hope I see you two again very soon!