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Lauren Bacall: The Look

Gallery FIT
March 3 – April 4, 2015

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #BacallTheLook. View the online exhibition for more, including a gallery guide and lesson plan.
Lauren Bacall: The Look was the first exhibition to exclusively celebrate the film and theater star's unique style. Bacall's own garments took the spotlight in this exhibition, which also explored Bacall's personal relationships with several of the fashion designers who dressed her. Organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice MA program, this exhibition examined Bacall's distinctive style within the context of her modeling, film, and theater careers.
Selections from Bacall's personal wardrobe, as well as from her film and stage roles, were displayed alongside photographs, magazine pieces, film posters, and archival footage. 12 garments were selected from a collection of 700 that Bacall donated to the museum between 1968 and 1986. Lauren Bacall: The Look included work by designers Marc Bohan, Pierre Cardin, Norman Norell, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, focusing on pieces from the 1960s and 1970s.
cardin dress
Pierre Cardin, dress, Dynel (Cardine), 1968, France. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 70.62.1
dior dress
Christian Dior by Marc Bohan, evening dress, silk jersey, ostrich feathers, spring 1968, France. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 76.69.3
norell ensemble
Norman Norell, evening set, cashmere, silk jersey, sequins, circa 1958, USA. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 68.143.6
The exhibition opened with a photograph of Bacall at age 19, taken by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and chosen by Harpers Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland for the magazines March 1943 cover. The photograph shows Bacall's full, natural eyebrows and softly waved hair, along with the alluring look of ease and self-confidence that became her trademark. Other images that demonstrate how The Look evolved were included in the exhibition.
A vivid pink wool coat by Norman Norell, worn by Bacall in the 1964 film Sex and the Single Girl, was on display. Bacall established an ongoing relationship with Norell, as well as with a number of other important designers. In 1968, she hosted "Bacall and the Boys," a CBS television special that presented the fall collections of some of her favorite designers. The exhibition displayed photographs of Bacall with her boys, who include Marc Bohan, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro. Clips from the television special, along with a selection of the garments Bacall wore in it, were in the exhibition. Highlights included a Cardin mini-dress and a Christian Dior evening gown. The fuchsia Cardin dress is devoid of adornment but is accented with molded 3D pyramid shapes. Ostrich plumes at the wrists and hem of the silk jersey Dior gown give it a dramatic flair. Bold design choices such as these extended to Bacall's off-screen wardrobe as well, as seen in a Norell subway coat ensemble. A modest tan overcoat opens to reveal a lining emblazoned with gold sequins and a matching sequin sheath dress. A beaded ensemble by Yves Saint Laurent demonstrates Bacall's audacious attitude when it came to dressing.
ungaro pantsuit
Emanuel Ungaro, pantsuit, silk damask, circa 1973, France. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 78.257.56
ysl dress
Yves Saint Laurent, evening set, silk organza, sequins, beads, fall 1969, France. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 74.107.8
norell outfit
Norman Norell, coat and two-piece dress designed for Sex and the Single Girl, wool, rhinestones, 1965, USA. Gift of Lauren Bacall, 68.143.4
Throughout her life, Bacall borrowed style cues from menswear. Examples in the exhibition included an ivory silk pantsuit by Norell and a black silk pantsuit by Ungaro. Both are impeccably cut and share certain elements: wide legs, high waistlines, and kerchiefs at the neck that reference a mans tie. Images of Bacall relaxing at home complemented these garments. While the photographs were taken decades apart, Bacall's look from one to the other is remarkably unchanged and altogether chic. Her ease and confidence were ever-present elements of The Look.