The FIDM Museum is in the final months of a major fundraising campaign to purchase the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, a private collection of 1,200 historic garments and accessories from four centuries. Each Friday, this blog will present an exquisite piece from the Larson collection.
This gown exemplifies a style known as a robe à la française, or gown in the French style. The name referred not to the place of origin--for the style was worn throughout Europe by the 1760s--but to the cut, which incorporated a loose panel of box-pleated fabric falling from the shoulders to the hem at the back. Today, it is sometimes called a Watteau gown, because it is seen in so many paintings by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1664-1721).
The gown--currently on display as part of our exhibition Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress--presents a unique silhouette from every angle: flat in front, voluminous in back, and inflated at the hips. But the unnatural proportions have a purpose: to show off as much expensive fabric as possible. In this case, the fabric is an exquisite floral silk brocade shot with metallic threads and trimmed with metallic lace and linen lace. In an era when all textiles were hand-woven, this excess yardage was an unmistakable status symbol. It also makes the gown extremely rare, for many eighteenth-century gowns were dismantled and remade to fit later wearers.
Helen Larson spent 50 years assembling her collection; now, it is in danger of being dispersed forever or absorbed into another private collection, inaccessible to students, researchers, and the general public. The FIDM Museum needs your help to save the Larson collection. You can make a contribution of any amount online or by mail, or join our #4for400 social media campaign to donate $4 (or more) via text. Donations are tax deductible; if your company has a matching gift program, your support will go even further. The FIDM Museum has until the end of 2015 to finish raising the necessary funds, so please join the campaign and help make fashion history.