Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity
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Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA.- The Oakland Museum of California presents today “Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity,” on view through September 21, 2003. From Hollywood glamour gowns to San Francisco hippie style to Southern California surfer gear, California has defined American fashion "cool" for nearly a century. As the birthplace of sportswear and casual Fridays, California has transformed world style on a global scale.
In celebration of California fashion, the Oakland Museum of California presents the exhibition Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity. On view at the museum from March 15 to Sept. 21, 2003, the exhibition displays more than 100 articles of clothing and accessories from the museum’s permanent collection as well as from other major museums and private lenders.
Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity examines how California fashion has been shaped by the entertainment industry as well as the state’s cultural diversification and varied climates and geography. The exhibition is organized into five thematic groupings: The Jean Pool, Sportswear, Dressing the Stars, Peddling the Identity, and Fashion Fusion — California Culture.
Jeans are a fashion icon that to many people represents American culture. From the invention of jeans as practical work clothing in the Gold Rush to Western wear on ranches, from the rebellious low fashion of hippies and protestors to the high fashion of couture designers, California has pioneered in jeans’ evolution. The exhibition will showcase some of the notable examples of this icon, including 19th century Levi Strauss products, a blue denim tuxedo worn by Bing Crosby, a pair of jeans prepared for James Dean for "Rebel Without a Cause," and denim designs ranging from hippie embroidery to an elaborate "Rhinestone Cowboy" suit created by costume designer Nudie Cohn.
California’s temperate climate and varied geography, along with the birth of the car culture, boosted the development of sportswear. The reach of California’s casualness in clothing extended worldwide with the spread of such sports activities as surfing, skateboarding, swimming and “Xtreme” sports, all of which generated a market for specialized clothing with bold, innovative designs. The exhibition features California swimsuits dating as far back as 1910, including Esther Williams’s swimsuit from the 1952 film "Million Dollar Mermaid" and Rudi Gernreich’s headline-making 1964 monokini; a collection of T-shirts featuring iconic images, from a California Raisins "Surf’s Up" design to a picture of the Grateful Dead; and sportswear by a number of California designers.
Hollywood lent an international presence to California from the early days of film, and the fashions from films have influenced the way we dress and made the reputations of numerous designers. Hollywood designs in the exhibition will include a dazzling Bob Mackie creation designed for Marlene Dietrich; the pleated white William Travilla dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch" (1955); Jennifer Beals’s sweatshirt from "Flashdance," by designer Michael Kaplan (1983); Michael Jackson’s crystal glove, designed by Bill Whitten; Sharon Stone’s white suit from "Basic Instinct" (1992); and Brad Pitt’s suit from "Oceans Eleven" (2001).
California retailing methods have proven successful the world over.  The exhibition will examine some of the California companies that expanded their merchandising to reach far beyond the state’s borders, such as Banana Republic and Levi Strauss. Also included will be a look at retailing in a more elegant era — fancy gift boxes from the fashion-forward San Francisco retailer Joseph Magnin, and a display table and architectural fragments from the Art Deco building of Oakland’s high-end Gray Shop.
The exhibition concludes with a look at fashion fusion in the work of California designers. A multitude of forces can be identified as inspiring these fused fashion statements: the Mi Amigo movement of 1941 in Southern California fueled by political amity between the United States and Mexico; handmade clothing revived during the wearable art movement of the 1970s and 1980s; cross-cultural influences, as seen in the clothing of the 1930s and ’40s at Gump’s department store inspired by traditional Chinese and Japanese cultures, and revisited in the kimono-style garments at the end of the century; Rudi Gernreich fostering the unisex look in the 1960s. The exhibition includes a 1905 afternoon dress from the White House department store in San Francisco appliquéd with embroideries from a Chinese robe; hippie-styled clothing displaying borrowed symbolism; and handmade, dyed garments by two creators of California wearable art, Ana Lisa Hedstrom and Jean Williams Cacicedo. Creations of more celebrity include an embroidered and beaded leather bag created by designer Linda Gravenites for Janis Joplin, and a 1973 Kaisik Wong vest whose design made headlines when it was revealed that it had been copied by the House of Balenciaga for their 2002 collection.
Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identity was organized by Inez Brooks-Myers, curator of costume and textiles at the Oakland Museum of California, with the help of Louise Coffey-Webb, Cameron Silver, Kaye Spilker and Jo Ann C. Stabb. It will be accompanied by a full-color booklet with introduction by Harold Koda, curator at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
The exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. The exhibition was organized by the Oakland Museum of California.

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