Over the past three days I have been working at The Society of the Four Arts, installing a beautiful selection of costumes and accessories owned by the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens for the exhibition “Invitation to the Ball: Marjorie Merriweather Post ’s Fancy Dress Costumes”.
Howard V. Kurtz, the Curator of the exhibition, is the Associate Curator of Costumes & Textiles at Hillwood in Washington, DC. He is also the Professor of Theater at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he teaches costume design, fashion history, pattern making, and makeup design.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was known as the “Grande Dame” of Palm Beach. Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1887, she inherited the Postum Cereal Company at the age of 27. The Postum Cereal Company later became the General Foods Corporation. Marjorie was a philanthropist and socialite, donating substantial amounts of money to charities and non-for-profit organizations. She was also an avid collector, acquiring an extensive French and Russian art collection, as well as jewelry, apparel, and accessories.
The exhibition presents five costumes from Marjorie Merriweather Post ’s personal collection. The fancy dress costumes from the 1920s include Marie Antoinette, Starry Night, Juliet, and a Female American Indian costume worn by Marjorie, accompanied by her husband’s costume as well. All of the costumes were worn for balls at the Everglades Club or the Bath and Tennis Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The exquisiteness that the costumes have goes parallel to the delicacy with which Howard handled the garments during the set up of the exhibition. Nothing is presented the way it is by chance. Every pleat and puff, twirl and wave, are meticulously set either to show the particular lining of a dress or to give you an idea about the gentle hang of a certain fabric, furnishing the robes with the rich appearance that they should have. Howard´s background in performing arts and scenography gives the exhibition the theatrical character that the costumes deserve.
The costumes are extremely fragile and were handled with great delicacy and care by Howard during the installation of the exhibition. Every pleat and puff, twirl and wave, were meticulously arranged to highlight the details of each costume. The costumes also included magnificent accessories, such as feathers, limitless beads, and custom-made shoes decorated with precious jewels and metals. They had to be sewn and placed very carefully on mounts that were installed adjacent to the costumes.
My three days assisting the curator were seasoned with his vivid and colorful stories about Marjorie. This collaborative effort was an unforgettable experience. Thanks, Howard!
“Invitation to the Ball: Marjorie Merriweather Post ’s Fancy Dress Costumes”, on display at The Four Arts Society from Saturday, January 23, 2016 to Sunday, March 6, 2016 and from Saturday, March 19, 2016 to Sunday, April 17, 2016