While most little girls are content to collect Barbie doll outfits, what delighted young Sandy Schreier was adult-sized haute couture. Forget Mother Goose, the young Shirley Temple look-alike avidly perused copies of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar while ensconced at daddy’s place of employment – the fur salon of Detroit’s Russek’s department store. Her passion endeared many automotive pioneer’s wives to gift her with their worn once or not-worn-at-all fashions.
Keeping these items fastidiously unworn as works of art was not only a novel idea (pre-vintage craze) but an uphill battle. Her parents were worried about dying from “old clothes disease” while conversely urging her to don them as Halloween costumes. Yet Schreier somehow presciently knew these items would someday answer a higher calling at that fabled museum in New York where they now reside.
This journey began under the late Costume Institute Curator Richard Martin and Curator Harold Koda, who borrowed items from Schreier (by then an author and lecturer on fashion and Hollywood history). Affirmation that her “things belonged in a museum” came from Koda, who inscribed “We want your clothes now,” in a previous exhibition’s accompanying book gifted to her.
It was bittersweet for Schreier, a mother of four grown children, mostly lawyers like her late husband, who are not interested in tending to her collection. The young visionary now an octogenarian admits to having “separation anxiety” as her “adopted children” (165 pieces out of a collection of what she estimates as 15,000 pieces) departed eastward to their new home. Her voice cracked with emotion, as she thanked the staff at The Met for helping her part with them as this day was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I’d call it her Field of (Fashion) Dreams (If you collect them The Met will come); a vindication after years of being mocked as “the little girl with bags of old clothes.”
“In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” (November 27 – May 17) features over 80 items (“some of my favorites,” said Schreier,) which she has now donated to mark The Met’s 150th anniversary. The Met chose items which “allow us to tell a more nuanced story” while also serving to fill in some gaps in the museum’s fashion archives, explained Associate Curator Jessica Regan.
Beginning with Fortuny and Gallenga (the first items collected), to the golden age of Hollywood films with their glamour and drama, to mid-century America and post-war French and Italian Couture, ending with a section of late 20th-century clothing with a sense of humor and a message, this exhibition runs the gamut. All the great design labels are there (although I would argue not always their best examples) along with some more of the more obscure (Boué Soeurs comes to mind) who don’t often get the spotlight.
A great piece of late ’60s fashion history came via leopard pant-clad designer Roberto Rojas. “I can’t believe she gave my dress such a place of prominence,” he exclaimed gleefully. “I knew she liked it, but I didn’t know this much.” Indeed the gold and silver metal mesh number has pride of place on the flip side of the Egyptian-inspired Madeleine & Madeleine gown (1923), which begins the show.
The shiny tiny dress was designed as a long frock created for Mia’s sister Prudence (“Dear Prudence” of Beatles fame) Farrow. Somehow it made its way to a 1967 Richard Avedon photoshoot for Vogue with newbie model Twiggy. “This girl’s never gonna make it,” Avedon said to Rojas, observing an awkward and unhappy model. “You need to do something.”
“Does anyone have scissors?” asked Rojas as he lopped off the length, thereby laying claim to the creation of the first “micro” mini (named by Polly Mellen’s assistant). “This dress is made of steel,” he said. “Now they make them out of aluminum. My mother and I had sewn each line with catgut, so now we had to resew all the holes.” And the rest is history as Twiggy regained her confidence, dancing around in delight.
Curator Andrew Bolton called Schreier a “pioneer” versed in the “modern practice of fashion collecting” who was one of the first to celebrate “fashion as an art form” with the “formation of the greatest collection of fashion in private hands.” She did resemble a modern-day pioneer woman in her full-skirted cotton dress with a digital print (Mary Katrantzou). Her cropped black leather jacket served to illustrate the true grit and determination that got her and her collection to their new home.
In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Reception – by Marilyn Kirschner
At the Monday morning press preview, the Met’s Director Max Hollein promised that “tonight, 600 of Sandy’s closets friends” will be in attendance at the opening and reception that evening. As it turns out, he was not exaggerating.
Approximately 450 filled the gallery where 80 pieces from Sandy Schreier’s coveted couture collection are on display through May 17th. It was fashion gridlock as people strained to get selfies with the prolific collector and fashion historian.
Among those in attendance were members of Sandy’s family (including her daughter and one of her sons) and close friends (there was a large contingent from Detroit where Sandy calls home). The eclectic guest list included Christine Schwarzman, Alina Cho, Beth Buccini, Jordan Roth, Amy Fine Collins, Hamish Bowles, Sheila Metzner, and Harold Koda. The former curator-in-chief of the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan was highly instrumental in getting this collection to the museum.
The Temple of Dendur was aglow in candlelight as hors d’oeuvres and drinks were served drinks (Kir Royale was the signature offering). As an homage to Sandy’s love of the cinema, soundtracks from iconic movies like The Sound of Music played in the background, adding a wonderful and nostalgic touch.
The dress code for the evening was “Business Attire” which I thought was a strange mandate given the occasion. I guess it depends on what your definition of “Business Attire” is, but it sounded overly corporate for a fashion event. Not to mention that the woman being honored has a lifelong passion for finding beauty. She wants people to walk away from the exhibition with a “sense of joy and wonder” in the words of co-curator Jessica Regan. I guess they didn’t want us to think this was going to be like the Met Gala lol.
Of course, Nancy Chilton, Chief External Relations Officer for The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the consummate professional, and she is always appropriately attired. In addition to everything else, she offered enormous emotional support to Sandy, who had to temporarily say goodbye to her “babies,” which is what she calls the clothes in her collection.
As it turns out, most guests wore what they wanted to. Does anyone even pay attention to dress codes these days? As Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz aptly put it, “this is MY business”. She was referring to the mercury metallic sculptural light bomber jacket she wore over a light gray dress and fierce black patent stiletto-heeled boots. The jacket was designed by her date: LA-based designer Zaid Affas who is a good friend of Sandy Schreier.
Coincidentally, silver seemed to be the color of the evening. This could not be more perfect given that the honoree has had a lifelong passion for the old Hollywood glamour of the silver screen.
For the occasion, legendary British milliner Stephen Jones, whose whimsical headpieces adorn the mannequins, chose a pale gray tattersall suit with a tie and cap.
Roberto Rojas, whose gold and silver mesh micro mini dress from 1967 is prominently displayed, wore a silver chain mail vest of his design.
Lori Newhouse opted for a chic silvery gray fur cocoon coat by Rick Owens. It was designed in homage to Larry LeGaspi.
Silvery gray was at the base of Jordan Roth’s statement-making quilted coat.
Amy Fine Collins’ printed Thom Browne ensemble was topped with a pale gray man-tailored coat.
Sandy’s choice for the evening was an elegant long black velvet caftan dress with silver embroidery. It was designed by Biyan, the most prominent and high-end fashion designer living in Indonesia.
“I buy clothes to wear, food to eat, decor in home, etc, based on the visual. I guess it’s in my DNA.” – Sandy Schreier
For the morning press preview, Sandy wore a colorful digitally printed dress by Mary Katrantzou toughened up with a cropped black leather jacket. I asked the ageless octogenarian if she is ever tempted to wear one of the pieces in her collection, and she said absolutely, no! Sandy treats them as works of art. Sandy told me that she only wears contemporary designers. She loves fashion and chooses based on what attracts her eye.