Artist-in-Residence: Royal Dressmakers & Haute Couture

In NMWA’s galleries during Royalists to Romantics, visitors will be treated to a novel program that will bring to life the fashions in the portraiture on view. Womenswear designer and artist-in-residence Celia Reyer will be on site on selected dates throughout the exhibition, at work on a garment inspired by, and created through, historically accurate production processes. Reyer’s process involves extensive curatorial research of fashion collections and artwork, tracing haute couture’s history. She developed her concept for the piece by examining images, such as Marie-Victoire Lemoine’s self-portrait, that showcase generous period costumes.

Marie-Victoire Lemoine, Portrait of the artist, ca. 1780/90; Oil on canvas, 114.5 x 87.5 cm.; Musee des beaux-arts, Orleans

Marie-Victoire Lemoine, Portrait of the artist, ca. 1780/90; Oil on canvas, 114.5 x 87.5 cm.; Musee des beaux-arts, Orleans

During her residency, Reyer will create a Brunswick traveling coat with assistance from patternmaker Andrea Shewe. A hooded coat, the Brunswick (or riding habit) was originally a working-class costume. The original French design consisted of a hip-length, split-sleeve jacket, a hood, and a petticoat. By the second half of the eighteenth century, Brunswicks had evolved into fashionable daywear. Stylistically, the coats mimicked men’s clothing, a sign of the new political era in France that had weakened gender and class barriers. Through this garment, its wearer was making a subtle, significant statement about her gender and evolving role in society. The Brunswick, like the common white-cotton dresses made fashionable by the upper class in the late-eighteenth century, also paid homage to fashion trends that traversed economic class.

Celia Reyer styles a 2010 exhibition, The Pleasure Garden, at the Museum of London

Celia Reyer styles a 2010 exhibition, The Pleasure Garden, at the Museum of London

Reyer, who holds degrees in fine arts and fashion design, has blazed a new path in design using old-world techniques to complement her professional experience in high fashion, fine art, and museum collections. The Prelle & Cie company, a fabric manufacturer established in 1752, and one of the oldest silk-furnishing fabric manufacturers in existence, donated fabric to this project. The company meticulously reproduces eighteenth-century fabrics from an archive of original samples. Through this exciting project, NMWA members and visitors are invited to watch as Reyer’s Brunswick takes form and look more deeply into the portraits featured in Royalists to Romantics.

Reyer will be at work in the galleries on February 23 and 26; March 4, 11, 18, and 25; and April 1 and 8. Her work-in-progress will be on view throughout the exhibition.

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