‘Decadence’ exhibit at Galleria Dallas provides a glimpse into fashion’s past

A couple was quickly strolling through the Galleria Dallas, focused on a store, or perhaps an item, in mind. As they passed the doorway, the wife peered into the fashion exhibit. Her eyes lit up as she scanned the dark room. She abruptly let go of her husband’s hand and, without a word, entered the room that was dripping with fringe, furs and foxtrot tunes. The husband slowly followed behind as the security guard chuckled to himself and clicked the digital counter twice.

They were the 99th and 100th people to enter the exhibit in less than two hours since it opened that day at noon. It wasn’t a surprise to Officer Reaves when the wife led in her reluctant husband. Or that she may spend more than half an hour looking at garments and accessories that are nearly 100 years old while he loiters by the exit. Women had been pouring into the exhibit since the day it opened and men were forced to watch and wait as “Decadence: Fashions from the 1920s” transported them to the streets of cities overcome by the Roaring Twenties.

“Decadence” was curated to showcase the beauty, elegance and allure of the fashion trends of the Roaring Twenties. Photo Credit: Paul Golangco
Jackie and Bob Snodgrass slowly moved from the daywear collection, featuring Coco Chanel drop-waist and delicate floral chiffon dresses, on to lavish fur coats and eventually evening gowns by Lucien LeLong and Jeanne Lanvin.

Jackie had read about “Decadence” in a local newspaper and, as a fan of the hit show Downton Abbey, wanted to see the specially curated fashion exhibit that celebrates its final season. She hoped that costumes from the show would be on display but was pleased to learn that original pieces, including Mariano Fortuny Delphos pleated silk gowns, were on display instead.

Bob, on the other hand, was just the victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Officer Reaves described it as a situation of a “man getting dragged in by his wife.”

“Oh well, I’m just following along,” Bob agreed and laughed.

The Snodgrass’ are just two of the hundreds of people who have come to visit the exhibit since it opened Jan. 22. The show has attracted scorns of people from all different backgrounds and peaked the interest of everyone from the security guard to those who have made a career working in fashion.

The exhibit gives people the chance to see rare vintage pieces like Maria Monaci Gallenga evening dresses or Lucien Lelong Aubergine silk satin gowns.

“It’s a good opportunity to see these things up close because of the amount of detailing and beading in all of the evening dresses,” Chelsea Bell, the director of the SMU fashion media program, said. “You see it in pictures, but it’s never the same as in person.”

Madeleine Kalb is a fashion media major at SMU who went to see “Decadence” with her classmates. For some students in the program, it was their first chance to see garments they have studied for years in person, rather then in a textbook or documentary. The glamour of the clothes, especially the intricate beading and detail work on each dress and the quality of the garments, particularly the coveted Fortuny Delphos gown, amazed Kalb.

“I’ve written about it many times, but I’ve never actually gotten to see it in person and it’s in really pristine quality,” Kalb said.

“Decadence: Fashions from the 1920s” was curated by Ken Weber of Vintage Martini to showcase the beauty, elegance and allure of the fashion trends of the era, but it can be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone who loves The Great Gatsby or ’20s-themed parties, are passionate about the history of fashion and design or just want to see a glimpse of the past.

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