“I thought you were the best turned out woman I’d seen for many years,” former Vogue editor and institution Diana Vreeland wrote to Ann Bonfoey Taylor in a letter dated from 1971—and that’s the exact sentiment the new fashion exhibition at Georgia Museum of Art encapsulates.
“Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor”—on display through Sunday, Sept. 15—guides visitors through the designer’s personal sensibility and illustrious history, one frock at a time.
Ann Bonfoey Taylor—not to be confused with the Ann Taylor retail chain—epitomizes the American dream. She was born in 1910, and her resume came to include an impressive list of titles such as Olympic skier, championship tennis player, licensed pilot, bold skiwear designer, daring sportswoman and, of course, style icon. Her multi-faceted skill set and fashion sense captivated whomever she encountered, especially designers. Everyone from Cristobal Balenciaga to Madame Gres was eager to create items for Taylor’s athletic frame and feminine mindset, to pay tribute to her understanding and appreciation of all aspects of design and her obsession with the extraordinary. While her wardrobe emphasized minimalism and a neutral palette, Taylor—whether horseback riding, jet-setting or fox hunting—was a living statement of elegance and exquisite taste.
While Taylor may be one of the more challenging women to sum up, GMOA couldn’t have done it better. “Fashion Independent” takes viewers on a journey from the moment they step off the glass stairs and onto the second floor. Introducing her famous ice blue dress and coat by Balenciaga—set before a large-scale image of her on a cattle ranch by fashion photographer Toni Frissell (pictured on Flagpole’s cover)—the gallery instantly fills with the energy of a woman who, simply put, couldn’t have been cooler. Beginning with photographs and short blurbs of Taylor’s early life, “Fashion Independent” includes Taylor’s own sketches and even a few architectural drawings of her iconic home in Vail, CO.
Just past the knee-high ski boots drenched in ostrich feathers, the exhibit begins to take shape as a timeline represented by activities and designers. The originally white gallery walls are lined with everything from hats, shoes, purses, bows and gloves (with the right pointer finger exposed for shooting a gun). While Taylor believed these accessories were vital to a put-together look, the heart of the exhibit lies in the original pieces from couture designers such as Charles James, Cristobal Balenciaga, Madame Gres and Hubert de Givenchy. Each outfit is complete and always daring, pushing the balance between functionality, comfort and the aesthetic in clothing. The pieces can also be observed as a representation of how each designer’s artistic process developed over the years, since Taylor was continuously expanding her wardrobe.
The collection, donated by Taylor’s family to the Phoenix Art Museum following her death in 2007, consists of nearly 200 articles of custom-made clothing. A 30-minute documentary film by David Boatman offers insight into Taylor’s career. From day to evening wear, “Fashion Independent” provides a glimpse into a remarkable lifestyle through an equally remarkable wardrobe, taking visitors along with Taylor on her adventures (minus the 20–30 pieces of personalized Louis Vuitton luggage).
GMOA’s free quarterly open house, “90 Carlton: Summer,” will be held on Thursday, June 13 from 6–9 p.m. All current exhibits will be open for viewing, and special activities include live music, snacks by home.made Catering and King of Pops and a workshop station for creating scarves and other Taylor-esque fashion accessories. Tours and gallery talks with curators will be available throughout the night, including a tour at 7 p.m. with Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion design at the Phoenix Art Museum.
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