Understanding how people use fashion to design themselves is being studied at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. As a result, the West Bend museum is opening an exhibit called A State of Fashion on June 11. The exhibit primarily focuses on high-end fashion throughout the years, spanning from before the Civil War to today.

Laurie Winters, MOWA president and CEO, describes the exhibit as a way to study how people use fashion to design themselves. “People think of Wisconsin as the land of green-and-gold jerseys and don’t think of high-end fashion emerging from the state,” Winters said. “But I think once they see the exhibits, people will be stunned by the caliber of Wisconsin fashion and design.”

The contributions to the exhibit all have particular ties to the state of Wisconsin. Throughout the past 18 months, the staff at the museum seized the opportunity to assemble the four distinct exhibits in the summer-long presentation. The first collection is The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit, ranging from haute couture to everyday fashion from prior to the Civil War, and a select few pieces from 1850-1995. In 1972, the collection was discovered in the attic of the Marshfield home of the Roddis family. The discovered pieces were worn by six generations of Roddis family members, and now holds an exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The collection has been featured in a New York Times Best Seller catalogue, American Style and Spirit: The Fashions and Lives of the Roddis Family, by Jane Bradbury and Edward Maeder. When speaking about this portion of the exhibit, Winters said, “We wished that we had known about the collection before it went to the Ford Museum. Fortunately, we were able to make a deal to bring the collection here.”

The second collection is the Florence Eiseman: Designing Childhood for the American Century, portraying a variety of high-end children’s clothing from the Florence Eiseman Company based in Milwaukee. The collection focuses on why this particular clothing line was crucial to creating headway for post-World War II American youth fashion. More than 125 garments from 1945 to the present were used to assemble this exhibit, gathered from the museum and university collections, private collections, and the company archive. A variety of A- listers, including Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, the Kennedys, and the Obamas, have used Eisman for unique baby gifts.

Next, the Contemporary Threads: Wisconsin Fashion is the third collection on this list, primarily focusing on haute couture from present day that breaks through the scope of typical fashion. The exhibit features the work of ten contemporary fashion designers, including a designer for Lady Gaga and four Project Runway alumni. “During the exhibition, our website is going to offer a who’s who among recognizable people in Milwaukee and Madison,” Winter mentioned. “We want to know what clothing they wear to work and what they wear for a night on the town.” The pieces allow the public to see the trend-setting designs from designers with Wisconsin ties. Lastly, the Daniel Arnold: A Paparazzo for Strangers is the final exhibit, that presents a variety of fashion photographs taken by the New York City street photographer Daniel Arnold. Originally from Milwaukee, Arnold’s work has been featured in Vogue, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. “Daniel Arnold has become the go-to street photographer for fashion,” Winters explains. “He’s never done an exhibition before and we thought this should be his first.”

The exhibit offers a look into fashion’s past, present, and future. “We define art as more than just 2D and 3D works hanging on a wall,” Winters said. “We include fashion, animation, graphic arts and commercial design, which we will be doing in the near future. It’s the things you live with, the kind of furniture you have, dishware that you use, and yes, the clothes that you choose to wear. How people design themselves is a very interesting thing.” The exhibits will run from June 11-September 17 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. All exhibits are free and open to the public.

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