The Moment: Jacqueline de Ribes is no Princess Leia.
Yes, it is true that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition on the subject of Countess de Ribes, a 20th-century style icon and aristocrat who comes from an era when such creatures were described admiringly as “swans,” is an eye-opening, perception-changing display of jaw-dropping couture gowns. The exhibition, which opened Thursday, is a reminder of a time when wealthy women dressed themselves, had impeccable taste, and in the case of de Ribes, customized her gowns to better reflect her own style.
But I must say Princess Leia is far more relatable. And fun! Or at least this thought came to mind on a visit to another fashion exhibit that opened this week: “Star Wars and the Power of Costume: The Exhibition,” at Discovery Times Square.
I cannot tell you that anticipation ran high within the fashion industry for such a show, whereas designers seemed to be suffering a case of Countess fever in the weeks leading up to the Met opening. I hadn’t even heard a peep about it until a review appeared in The New York Times last week.
While largely conveying a sense of the promotional, given the upcoming release of Star Wars: Episode VII on Dec. 18, the displays actually include an impressive array of actual costumes from the prior six films (some from the Smithsonian Institution), as well as the next one. It starts with the monastic robe of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Episode IV: A New Hope, which looks unexpectedly well detailed, yet threadbare, in person. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that was the first film, from 1977.
Why It’s a Wow: There are fascinating, though brief, explanations of the symbolism and inspirations behind many of the most memorable designs from the movies, including some obvious allusions to totalitarian and fascist uniforms in the Imperial bad-guys attire, as well as less expected notes of Elizabethan neckbands, African braided hairstyles, and a Mongolian-inspired headdress in the bountiful wardrobe of Padmé Amidala (played by Natalie Portman in the later films, pictured below).
George Lucas, in a quote included in the show, describes the second Star Wars trilogy as “walking right into a fashion statement,” whereas in the original three films, he purposefully kept the designs very simple. And yet the exhibition demonstrates just how much more potent those simple designs actually were. You can instantly picture Princess Leia’s white robe-like gowns, Han Solo’s vest (below), and, of course, those storm trooper uniforms. Amidala’s extravagant mash-up gowns look overdone, a National Geographic jumble, by comparison.
An interesting footnote: those intimidating trooper uniforms were made of vacuum-formed plastic pieces attached to the body with elastic and suspenders, worn with “ordinary domestic rubber gloves, with a bit of latex shoved on the front,” according to John Mollo, the costume designer of Episodes IV and V. Who knew?
Learn More: Actually, fashion designers do love Star Wars, so much so that several of them are creating outfits inspired by the upcoming film for a charity auction. Designs by Diane von Furstenberg, Giles Deacon, Opening Ceremony, and more will be on display at the Bloomingdale’s New York flagship next week, and auctioned on CharityBuzz.com from Dec. 2-18 to benefit Child Mind Institute.