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Lauren Bacall: The Look

Start Date 03 March 2015
End Date 04 April 2015
Venue The Museum at FIT
Location New York, USA
Curator The School of Graduate Studies at FIT 

The Fashion Institute of Technology’s School of Graduate Studies and The Museum at FIT present Lauren Bacall: The Look, the first exhibition to exclusively explore Bacall’s career and personal style, in which her own garments take the spotlight. Organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice program, this exhibition examines 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, are displayed alongside photographs, magazine pieces, film posters, and archival footage. Approximately one dozen garments have been selected from a collection of 700 that Bacall donated to the museum between 1968 and 1986. Lauren Bacall: The Look includes work by designers Marc Bohan, Pierre Cardin, Norman Norell, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, focusing on pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. 

The exhibition opens with a photograph of Bacall at age 19, taken by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and chosen by Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland for the magazine’s 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 are included in the exhibition. 

A vivid pink wool coat by Norman Norell, worn by Bacall in the 1964 film Sex and the Single Girl, is on displayBacall 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 displays 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, are in the exhibition. Highlights include 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. 

Throughout her life, Bacall borrowed style cues from menswear. Examples in the exhibition include 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 man’s tie. Images of Bacall relaxing at home complement 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.”

The School of Graduate Studies at FIT
Students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice MA program in FIT’s School of Graduate Studies have collaborated with The Museum at FIT to present Lauren Bacall: The Look. The School of Graduate Studies provides advanced professional education in seven distinctive areas, promoting excellence in the post-baccalaureate study of fashion, business, art, and design. The school offers programs leading to the MA, MFA, and MPS degrees, and is dedicated to advancing research in the creative industries and fostering innovative collaborations that link students and faculty with industry and professional partners worldwide.