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THE WAY WOMEN LOOKED LACMA PRESENTS A CENTURY OF FASHION, FROM MAXIS TO MINIS AND BACK AGAIN.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Fashion Editor

A woman's closet can hold a lifetime of memories.

Stuffed way in the back are often magic moment ensembles such as her prom dress or favorite childhood outfit, and family heirlooms such as her mother's mink stole or grandmother's fringed piano scarf.

For those who mark milestones by what they wore or those who simply long to wander down fashion's memory lane, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has opened its closet to display 130 trend-setting women's styles for ``A Century of Fashion, 1900-2000,'' which opens today at LACMA East in the Ahmanson Building.

Unlike other museum fashion displays, ``A Century of Fashion'' is intimate, with the mannequins posed like party guests at a salon soiree. And they're not behind glass, so visitors can get close enough to see every fashion detail, from tiny tucks in bodices to floral designs on enameled buttons. Just remember not to touch.

``It is a look at the changing image and role of women in society over the past 100 years, encompassing changes in textile technology and the introduction of new fibers,'' said Costume and Textiles curator Dale Gluckman. ``And we can see how the aesthetic of a period influences everything about that period - the colors, furniture, fabrics and the female body.''

The mannequins are grouped by decade and feature examples of sportswear, daywear and evening wear by many big-name designers - but surprisingly, there's not a single Armani or Versace in the group. Gluckman says this wasn't an oversight.

``It's just that we wanted to highlight our museum pieces that have been rarely shown, which includes early-1900s ensembles by Italian designer Mariano Fortuny and also New York dressmaker A.H. Metzner; jazz age designs by Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel and Jean Patou; '30s names such as Nina Ricci and Elsa Schiaparelli; '40s and '50s fashions by Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent; and '60s designs by Valentino, Norman Norell, Emilio Pucci and Geoffrey Beene. From the anything-goes '70s are designs by Ralph Lauren, Issey Miyake and Zandra Rhodes, with superwoman '80s styles by Thierry Mugler and body-baring fashions of Halston and Christian Lacroix'' - who recently designed Catherine Zeta-Jones' wedding gown - ``and '90s styles by Herve Leger and also Yohji Yamamoto and Jean-Paul Gaultier, who reinterpreted the traditional in new and startling ways,'' said Gluckman.

Kaye Spilker, a member of the curatorial team, emphasized how the exhibit also shows the impact of major historic events on fashion. For example, World War II rationing of certain fabrics led to a tailored, more masculine look that replaced the curvy art deco fashions of the '30s.

``During wartime, there was even a regulation called L-85 that defined how much yardage could be used, as well as buttons and zippers. So we saw slim suits, short skirts and less silk - which was used for military parachutes - and the master of that look was Gilbert Adrian, who used very clever piecing and placement of pockets to look luxe even in wartime rationing,'' Spilker said.

The same era also salutes the City of Angels, particularly the San Fernando Valley.

``It's subtle, but in the '40s we highlight the California sportswear industry that really developed after the war, when soldiers came out to the Valley to buy tract houses on the GI Bill, and built patios, pools and barbecues,'' Gluckman said.

The exhibit coincides with LACMA's ambitious ``Made in California: Art, Image and Identity, 1900-2000'' show in the Hammer and Anderson buildings and points to some apparel there, including Rudi Gernreich's notorious topless bathing suit from the 1960s.

Spilker elaborated on the Valley in the '40s. ``It was a San Fernando Valley suburban lifestyle that included capri pants and halter tops, pedal-pusher suits, and bathing suits worn with a skirt that took off around the world. And among the designers who made it famous were DeDe Johnson, Addie Masters, Pat Premo and Louella Ballerino,'' she said. And for those looking for movie-star glitz, Gluckman said there are also examples by Hollywood costume designers such as Bob Mackie.

Gluckman and Spilker, as well as Sharon Takeda and Sandy Rosenbaum, worked for more than a year putting together the exhibit, while textile conservators cleaned and mended the clothing to make it look as new as merchandise in a store window. The biggest challenge was finding the appropriate mannequins, Gluckman said.

``The clothes are old and the mannequins are new, so they had to be manipulated to fit the garments and reflect particular periods,'' she said. ``For example, we worked with Goldsmith Mannequins of New York that has developed a line of turn-of-the-century mannequins with a Victorian shape. And for the '20s through '90s, we used Patina-V (an L.A. company that provides mannequins for most local department stores) that modified the body styles and poses for us. Then we molded hair or created it out of clay and plaster based on historic sources, not only because early mannequins didn't always have real hair, but because we wanted a very stylized look with continuity throughout the gallery.''

Gluckman said they used vintage photos of movie stars in designing the mannequins' hair and dressed them according to each era, right down to the underwear. Fashion students should take note, she says, that dark opaque stockings dominated the 'teens, while flesh-toned silk hose was popular in the '20s, and bright-colored silk stockings dyed to match the dress and shoes were a '30s trend - a marked contrast to the frugal wartime '40s when women often went without hose and were known to draw ``seams'' up the backs of their legs. By the late '40s and '50s, stockings changed again, now seamless and flesh-toned in the new wonder fiber called nylon.

The exhibit continues through Jan. 6, 2003, with clothing changes every six months. But each rotation, said Gluckman, will represent at least 35 examples of each decade, so there will always be something new, whether it's Christian Dior's New Look, or the new western look influenced by '40s cowboy movies or Zandra Rhodes' ultimate '70s design - a flashy yellow butterfly coat once modeled by the late Natalie Wood.

``CENTURY OF FASHION, 1900-2000''

Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

When: Today through Jan. 6, 2003, installed in four rotations. Hours: noon to 8 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; noon to 9 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m to 8 p.m. weekends. Closed Wednesdays.

How much: General LACMA admission $7 for adults; $5 for senior citizens and college students; $1 for children. The second Tuesday of every month is free to all. Parking is $5. Call (323) 857-6000 or go to www.lacma.org.

Fashion by the decade

In the year 2000, we've tried on numerous looks from the past, from bobs to bobby socks, minis to maxis. Here are some other looks from the past:

1900-1910s

--High Victorian collars

--Watches on long chains

--Small beaded handbags

--Hobble skirts

1920s

--Short flapper dresses

--Rhinestones and beading

--Flesh-colored stockings

--The bob hair cut

1930s

--Bias-cut dresses

--Midcalf to ankle hemlines

--Playful jewelry with fruit and birds

--Creative hats, including cocktail hats

1940s

--Suits with padded shoulders and knee-length skirts

--Plastic and wood jewelry (metal saved for war effort)

--Hawaiian prints brought home from soldiers

--Dior's New Look in 1947 (long full skirt with nipped waist)

1950s

--Poodle skirts and twinsets

--Capri pants

--``I Love Lucy'' shirtwaist dresses

--The bikini swimsuit

1960s

--Jackie Kennedy's matching dress, coat and pillbox hat

--Miniskirts and boots

--Fake eyelashes and hair pieces

--Psychedelic and Space Age themes

1970s

--Hoop earrings and aviator glasses

--``Saturday Night Fever'' ensembles

--Brown and orange polyester

--The ``Annie Hall'' look

1980s

--Power dressing with padded shoulders

--Logo madness (Rolex, Cartier, Chanel)

--Big hair and low ponytails

--The pouf party dress

1990s

--Techo fabrics

--Grunge trend

--Gothic/monastic looks

--Black, black, black

CAPTION(S):

13 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 3 -- color) Nina Ricci's beaded and embroidered two-piece dinner dress defined the elegance of the '30s, left; Christian Lacroix's trend- setting '80s pouf party dress, center; Thierry Mugler's clever and curvy suit with plastic trim ushered in the '90s fashion stance.

(4 -- color) Christian Dior's 50's version of the little black dress with tulle petticoat offered an elegant option for a night on the town.

(5 -- 6 -- color) Valentino's trademark red in an elegant gown and coat, circa 1963, left, and the Pucci print dress from the '60s that inspired numreous knockoffs, above, both made a visible impact in fashion.

(7 -- 8 --color) Gilbert Adrian's tailored worsted wool suit from the 1940s, right, reflected the wartime rationing of fabric, while the '20s presented more of a feminine flair as seen in this sequined dress by Jeanne Beckers, below.

(9 -- color) An iridescent silk afternoon dress from 1904, by New York dressmaker A.H. Metzner-featuring fine fabric and intricate detail- can be found in all its shimmering glory at the museum.

(10) BETTE DAVIS

(11) DOROTHY LAMOUR

(12) JACKIE ONASSIS

(13) FARAH FAWCETT

Box: Fashion by the decade (see text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 14, 2000
Words:1508
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