From the bonnet à la Figaro (an 18th-century fashion inspired by the hero of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro), to the 1920s costumes in LA Opera’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, opera and fashion have always influenced each other. To celebrate the inextricable link between opera and fashion, LA Opera has partnered with FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles and inspired an exhibition called “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s.”
This is the second time that LA Opera productions have inspired an exhibition at FIDM. In March 2015, FIDM Museum presented “Opulent Art: 18th-Century Dress.” This exhibition featured a rare original 18th-century Figaro costume worn during performances of The Marriage of Figaro. The exhibition also coincided with the company’s Figaro Unbound initiative (presented in connection with the company’s “Figaro Trilogy”: Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
This time, “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s” explores how films set in exotic locales influenced the fashion of the day. This exhibition is inspired by LA Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, which is set in the Roaring Twenties on the famous Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Paris.
Surrounded by a giant Orient Express structure, various “exotic” clothing is displayed as if on a platform about to board the train. Several of the pieces are not so different from what the characters in The Abduction from the Seraglio might wear on their journey around the world, also reflecting the “east meets west” nature of the opera – and of Hollywood cinema in the 1920s (see The Sheik or The Thief of Baghdad).
“We set specific parameters, when selecting what items to use in the exhibition,” recalls FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones. “The clothing had to be from the 1920s and somehow exotic or foreign, but they also needed to have some connection to Hollywood.” (Right next to this exhibition is FIDM Museum’s 25th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition, featuring costumes from Oscar-nominated La La Land among many others.)
This red velvet evening dress designed by the silent film-era set and costume designer Natacha Rambova (wife of actor Rudolph Valentino) is one of the pieces in the exhibition and looks like it could go straight from the opera house, to a grand Hollywood party, to the set of a Greek epic film (note the Greek Ionic patterns around the hip and neckline).
The Rambova is not the only exciting piece in the collection.
“Many of the pieces displayed in this exhibition have never been showcased before,” says Jones.
One such item is a brown tailored suit with Incan and Mayan patterns. Despite fashion’s obsessions with all things “foreign” in the 1920s, Incan and Mayan patterns were rarely used and the suit’s origin is a bit of a mystery.
“Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s” is free to the public and is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am-5pm, until April 22 (see below for address). It’s the perfect exhibition to see clothing that inspired the fashions of The Abduction from the Seraglio and perhaps get inspired to dress up for a night at the opera.
To learn more about and purchase tickets to The Abduction from the Seraglio, click here.
FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising is located at 919 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90015.