Creators of the Mint Museum’s newest fashion exhibit didn’t have to travel far to track down the 21 pieces by some of the world’s biggest names in contemporary fashion that grace three large galleries.
And that was precisely the point.
Because “Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture and Fabulous Fashion” is all about displaying some of the most significant pieces hanging in closets right here in Charlotte — the closets of 11 of the city’s most passionate fashion collectors.
And who are their fashionista owners? They’re 10 women and one man chosen for their progressive style and impressive fashion collections, Mint leaders said.
The group includes boutique owner and stylemaker Laura Vinroot Poole, philanthropist Lisa Dargan, pediatric dentist Dr. Kim Blanding Putney, art gallery owner Chandra Johnson, TV news host Ashley Anderson Mattei, arts patron Ann Tarwater, civic leader Deidre Grubb, former educator Myra Gassman, attorney Alex Holleman and fashion executive Amanda Weisiger Cornelson.
The one man represented is Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, whose custom two-button Versace suit and brilliantly studded Giuseppe Zanotti loafers serve as a welcome at the entrance to the exhibit.
And the designers represented? They’re enough to quicken the pulse of any fashion lover: Giambattista Valli, Carolina Herrera, Valentino, Isaac Mizrahi, Junya Watanabe and more. Some, collectors said, they purchased directly from the designers’ ateliers; others were bought in vintage shops around the world. (Search for some of the dresses online and you’ll turn up prices in the tens of thousands of dollars.)
There are gowns worn for weddings, others worn for galas and events, both in Charlotte and far outside city limits.
But what makes them all fitting of the term “fashion” and not simply “clothing,” according to Annie Carlano, senior curator of craft, design and fashion for the Mint, is that they “are expressing our times from various cultural points of view.”
Mint staff created white box frames that mimic closets around the garments (most are grouped according to owner). The boxes give visitors a 360-degree view to appreciate every little detail, such as the exquisite beading and feathering in the tiered Valentino gown worn by Chandra Johnson to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Award celebration in Las Vegas, and the subtle-yet-innovative bat design woven into a black Rochas cocktail dress owned by Ashley Anderson Mattei.
The all-around view is a treat, because in many cases, the most exciting way to see a garment is from the back; breathtaking capes abound in several ensembles, as well as fascinating button closures and bustles. (The only ensemble not seen in a 360-degree view is Newton’s Versace suit, white dress shirt, peacock-feather bowtie and Giuseppe Zanotti loafers are on display on a landing as you turn to enter the galleries.)
To show the garments off in the best way possible, the Mint brought in New York-based costume and textile expert Tae Smith to custom-engineer mannequins that would perfectly fit the garments. (Mint staff created a time-lapse video showing that process with one of the dresses.)
“The whole premise is that fashion is sculpture. Fashion is design. It has a function. It clothes the body and expresses your personal point of view. It needs to be understood in that way,” Carlano said.
The typical gallery benches were replaced with tufted ottomans, or poufs, for this exhibit for a very specific reason, Carlano said.
“That’s what we found when we went into most of these women’s closets — poufs.”
“Charlotte Collects,” which runs through Feb. 4 at the museum’s Randolph Road location, is part of the Mint’s “Year of Fashion,” which centers around three exhibitions: “William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007-2016” is on display through June 3 at the Mint Museum Uptown, and the upcoming show “The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta” will open in spring 2018 at the Mint Museum’s Randolph Road location.
If you go, here are five gowns you won’t want to miss:
▪ Two show-stoppers occupy the center gallery: separate wedding ensembles created by Giambattista Valli and worn by a mother and daughter, Lisa Dargan and Amanda Weisiger Cornelson.
Dargan’s ensemble, a fairytale-invoking voluminous skirt made from ostrich feathers paired with a silk blouse and silk-and-cotton embroidered riding jacket, was part of a Giambattista Valli haute couture showing in 2014 at the Duke Mansion (on the invitation of Laura Vinroot Poole, owner of Capitol boutique – Valli’s first U.S.-showing of a couture collection). Dargan said she fell in love with the ensemble and had one created for her 2015 wedding.
Her wedding day in Savannah, Ga., was so unseasonably cold, Dargan said, that she paired it with fur-lined ski boots. (The length of the dress hid the boots.)
“It was a dream to wear. I felt like I was just floating,” Dargan recalled. “I hated to take it off.”
Weisiger Cornelson’s gown at first appears as though it were made from an exquisite late-18th century floral embroidered fabric, but upon closer inspection (in our case, with the help of Carlano), you see that it was created with textile technology. The intricate flowers were computer generated, Carlano explained, then painstakingly applied to the tulle dress in a strategic way that create lines at the waist and neck, and contours the body.
▪ To get an up-close look at the magic that is simplicity and structure, visit the 1930s-glamour cut-on-the-bias ivory Isaac Mizrahi gown owned by Chandra Johnson. “This is the dress a lot of us would steal, if we could have one,” Carlano said with a laugh. Mizrahi “makes beautiful drawings of designs and he knows how the pattern should be structured. ... It’s not in the fabric, it’s totally in the construction. It’s sublime without lots of bells and whistles.”
▪ Two dresses from Myra Gassman’s collection hail from Japanese designer Issey Miyake, which she purchased at Neiman Marcus during her years living in Los Angeles. Gassman, who was a teacher for 52 years, said she was greatly influenced by Asian styles thanks to years of teaching in schools with large Asian populations, and she used fashion to teach about world cultures.
“Style shouldn’t be dictated, but discovered individually,” Gassman said. “I give myself permission to listen to my inner voice.”
▪ One piece from the collection of Vinroot Poole is a pink silk taffeta cocktail dress from Giambattista Valli’s spring 2014 Haute Couture collection. The pajama-influenced dress was shown at the Duke Mansion in a crisp white taffeta, which Vinroot Poole said she worried would be in poor taste at a wedding (because of its whiteness), so she requested it in pale pink with cherry red piping.
“With couture you can customize as you wish up to a point,” Vinroot Poole said. “The designer still has to sign off on the piece, as his or her name will be on it. In this case, I guess Giambattista agreed with my choice and I think the dress came out like a dream ... a fluffy pink one, with cherry red on top.”