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Journey of a Dress Both Feminine and Feminist

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Just two days before the Golden Globes, at which the 70s-retro movie American Hustle is expected to be a star of the show, an exhibit by and about Diane von Furstenberg and 40 years of her wrap dress opened in the former May Company department store. The wrap dress was the item of clothing the 20-something divorcée of a Prince (Egon von Furstenberg) launched on the world that was intended to carry women from work to cocktail party to seduction in one practical, slinky, jersey package.

DVF amyadamsAt a press conference Friday morning for Journey of a Dress, von Furstenberg, not wearing a wrap dress herself because, by her own admission, she no longer had the waist for it, talked about how this creation had transformed her life — paying her bills, her kids’ college fees and affording her a lifetime of freedom.

The dress, which sold for $86 dollars in the early days (equating to its current price of around $300) also, she said, enabled millions of other women to feel liberated — a feeling that’s expressed by Sydney Prosser/Amy Adams when she emerges wrap-dressed, braless and empowered in the now famous drycleaners scene in American Hustle.

DVF textingNow the wrap — or 100s of them, dating from their birth to more recent iterations — can be seen on rows and rows of thin, high cheekboned mannequins (echoing the designer’s bone structure), arranged like the Chinese ”terracotta armies,” in von Furstenberg’s words, on the ground floor of the west wing of the former Wilshire May Company Building, adjacent to LACMA and soon to be a museum for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Also at the exhibit, which is a traveling show created and paid for by DVF: a pink-walled corridor of photos of women including Michelle Obama, Madonna, Amy Winehouse and Sydney/Amy Adams (above), sporting the wrap dress, and a room dedicated to portraits – by artists and photographers including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Annie Liebowitz – of von Furstenberg, a society beauty then and now, and never a wallflower.

Not on display are images of the millions of ordinary, less-than-stunning women wearing the dress, though the organizers do invite women to send in their personal experiences wearing it.

The images of physical beauty, the bright pink walls and the relentless rows of dresses in animal prints, geometrics, natural themes, colors and black/white, arrayed over patterned floors and walls, add up to a striking display that sells von Furstenberg’s 70s as both feminine and feminist, a libertine period that existed for a brief moment, as she put it, “between the pill and AIDs.”

Her opening party Friday night even featured a recreation of the legendary nightclub Studio 54, at which she was a regular along with others gorgeous enough to gain entry.

Elle journalist in wrap dressRebirth of a Dress

In recent years the wrap dress has been enjoying a rebirth, as a vintage collectible for 20-somethings and as wearable fashion in many countries, including Dubai and other Arab states (just what role the wrap dress plays in women’s liberation there is unclear), where von Furstenberg has a thriving business.

In fact at the press conference there were quite a few journalists from overseas, including Julia Juyeon Kang (left), a reporter from Seoul, Korea, for the Korean edition of Elle magazine. Kang was wearing a newly bought wrap dress herself, and somehow it looked very like the green and white wrap dress worn for a movie-moment by Sydney/Amy in the dry cleaners in American Hustle.

The exhibit could come across simply as shameless self-promotion. Somehow it doesn’t, either because it’s visually so alluring or because we live in such an age of such shameless self(ie)-promotion (that even her friend Andy Warhol could not have anticipated) we are inured to it.

And von Furstenberg herself is impressive, coming across as an intriguing mix of powerful businesswoman and savvy marketer, mother/grandmother and diva.

Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys and author of The Asylum, says that von Furstenberg matters because she is ”warm and empathetic towards her customer and has always known what girls needed at any given time. This is why she has had such staying power. She brings with her the gorgeous, glamorous DNA of the euro-fabulous 70′s, but she has updated the glam of that era for this century.”

Journey of a Dress will be open to the public from January 11th through April 1st, 2014.

wrap dresses

LA Observed took this image, below, of the pink corridor that leads into the exhibit where images of notable women and celebrities are pictured wearing wrap dresses. They caught DnA’s Caroline Chamberlain snapping pictures of the event.

caroline DVF

Image by Judy Graeme.

 

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