Last week, two friends with enviable wardrobes and I visited The Lure of Beauty at Sharjah Art Museum. More than three hundred fifty historic fashion sketches, photographs, and vintage magazine covers from the private collection of Martin Fervers of Cologne, Germany are on display. The exhibition has been meticulously curated to present work in chronological order, beginning in the early 20th century with simple pen and pencil sketches and culminating in the opulent supermodel days of the 90’s as marked by a young Naomi Campbell and co. preening alongside Gianni Versace.
Turning to me calmly, my friend who has recently been transplanted from London to Dubai whispered, ‘I may look composed but inside I am dancing.’ She couldn’t have captured my sentiments better. ‘Lucky’ was the word that frequently came to mind. The quality of the show was on par with something I would have gladly paid $20 to queue for hours in the freezing autumn rain to view at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Once inside, I would have had to shoulder my way in a most unladylike manner to the front of a dense crowd (don’t judge me for my crowd surfing ability—I am petite and can’t see over heads easily), whereupon after 15-30 seconds of viewing bliss per photograph, a stout security guard would tellingly clear his throat, signalling that it was time to move along so as not to cause a bottleneck. In the case of Sharjah Art Museum, entry was free of charge and we were thrillingly left alone in the empty museum wing to wander, ponder, and remark to one another on the exhibition.
I am constantly scouring vintage shops for well-preserved boleros, beaded sweaters, and full silk skirts from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I am romanced by the combination of glamour and functionality found in the designs back in the day when women’s curves were considered desirable rather than indicators of an eminent colon cleanser and crash diet. I was particularly drawn to the portraits that corresponded to those years in this exhibition—the trends of evening gloves, chignons, and strings of pearls—from back when black and white photographs were manually developed in dark rooms.
I paused for a long daydream in front of Dorothy Wilding’s 1930 portrait, Mrs. Wallis Simpson-Duchess of Windsor, losing myself in Wallis’ life story as the strong-voiced, fierce-hearted American socialite who caused a royal scandal in her day. I was introduced to Horst P. Horst’s documentation of subdued wartime beauties and to Pierre Simon’s 1950 watercolours highlighting women with brave lipstick choices and swan-like necks highlighted by the era’s signature sweetheart necklines.
My only regrets were that a catalogue was not available (I would have snapped one up immediately) and finding The Lure of Beauty so terribly empty. Sharjah Art Museum in general and this exhibition in particular are deserving of a field trip by art enthusiasts, aspiring designers and couture addicts alike. Editing a blog covering the UAE art scene, I often meet people who complain of a lack of local museum culture. From now on my automatic response will be to recommend a trip to Sharjah’s 16 museums. I’m already making plans to return to The Lure of Beauty with friends for an afternoon of sketching before the exhibition is dismantled and rightfully returned to Martin Fervers at the end of November.
By Danna Lorch