This week we are excited to bring you an interview with Ariele Elia, Assistant Curator of Costume + Textiles at MFIT. You can read her essay, “The Wardrobe of the Modern Athlete: Activewear in the 1930s,” in the exhibition’s accompanying book, Elegance in an Age of Crisis, from Yale University Press. Ariele also co-curated the current MFIT exhibition Trend-ology with MFIT Assistant Curator of Costume Emma McClendon. The show is on view now until April 30, 2014 in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery.
– What was the most surprising thing you found in researching activewear from the 1930s?
AE: I was surprised to see what an active role women played in sports during the 1930s. Athletes such as Lilí Álvarez shocked the crowds when she debuted her trouser skirt designed by Schiaparelli at Wimbledon in 1931, and Amelia Earhart became the first female to fly across the Atlantic in 1932.
– In your essay in Elegance in an Age of Crisis, you detail Jean Patou’s many contributions to fashionable resort wear and activewear in the 1930s. Why do you think the idea of the active woman resonated with him as a designer?
AE: Jean Patou was an athlete himself. He was inspired by women who played sports and wanted to create ensembles that gave them freedom of movement and would enhance their performance. He observed women playing sports to get a better idea of how their bodies moved. His brother-in-law Raymond Barbas was a French national tennis player and introduced him to Suzanne Lenglen. Patou design her famous 1921 ensemble for Wimbledon, which allowed her to leap toward the ball and swing her racket with a full range of motion.
– Are there any behind-the-scenes moments from assisting on the exhibition that stand out in your mind?
AE: I was amazed by the level of connoisseurship Patricia [Mears, Deputy Director MFIT] and Bruce [Boyer] brought to the exhibition. It was inspiring to sit and listen to them describe the details of a garment. There is so much information that can be extracted by closely examining the construction. Patricia discovered an important aspect of how Augustabernard designed. While studying a dress she observed that there were 18 pintucks sewn diagonally (with irregular intervals that varied in length and depth) on the front while there were 13 pintucks across the back; this lead her to believe this dress was shaped directly on the wearer’s body.
– Do you have a favorite ensemble from the exhibition?
AE: One of my favorite ensembles is the man’s swimsuit. It has a zipper at the waist that allows the wearer to unzip the tank portion of the suit and expose his chest. Depending on the where this man was vacationing he could adapt to his surroundings. For example people in Deauville, France were more risky and showed more skin, whereas people in New York were more conservative and covered up.
– And finally, please give us 3 words which describe this exhibition for you:
AE: Innovative, streamlined, elegant.
Today is the last day to see the exhibition in our Special Exhibitions Gallery! Come see us and tweet with #1930sFashion.