Inside The Costume Institute’s Lavish New Fashion Exhibit at The Met

by Aria Darcella

“When my husband and I were 16 or 17 we borrowed the family car [and] drove to the Met,” fashion collector Sandy Schreier told The Daily this morning. “I walked through every gallery and I said, ‘This is fantastic. One day all my dresses are going to be here.’ And my husband said, “You have the biggest fantasies, but you always seem to make them come true.” He wasn’t wrong.

Schreier’s dreams technically came true long ago (she has been loaning out her extravagant pieces to The Met for years), but this week marks a truly special milestone: an exhibit entirely supplied by, and dedicated to, her. In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection, which opens November 27, spans the entire 20th century, and features approximately 80 of the 165 items Scheier has promised to the museum.

Sandy Schreier

Sandy Schreier (Susan Tusa /Detroit Free Press via ZUMA Wire)

“This isn’t a loan, this is a gift, and there is a big difference,” she said. “This is really very heart wrenching and very emotional, because I’ve taken care of some of these things for as long as 75, 80 years. I am their mother, and they’re leaving home. They’re going off to summer camp but they’re not returning.”

(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Schreier claims her interest in fashion started as early as two and a half years old, when her father, head furrier at the Detroit department store Russeks, took her to work with him. Schreier fell in love with the ready-to-wear and accessories departments, and began reading Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for the first time. The wives of auto company executives were amused with her, and gifted her with their couture. These were the beginnings of her collection, which is now about 15,000 pieces-strong. “It wasn’t all fun and games. People made fun of me. They laughed at me,” she joked with the press. “Friends, relatives, strangers would come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you the little girl with bags of old clothes?’ And to this day people drop bags of old clothes off at my front porch in suburban Detroit.”

“[Collecting fashion] is such a subjective thing,” Hamish Bowles, European editor-at-large for American Vogue tells The Daily. “Sandy’s very much drawn to razzle-dazzle show-stopping clothes, and wit in clothing. And print — dramatic print.”

Schreier’s collection is certainly something to behold, and Bowles has nailed her eye. Many of the garments are fantastical representations of their time periods. There are elaborately beaded flapper dresses, Dior cocktail gowns from the 1950s, and even an iconic metallic Roberto Rojas mini-dress wore by Twiggy in Vogue in 1967. Of particular interest are lush gowns and capes by Mariano Fortuny and Maria Monaci Gallenga. The unique pieces, dating back to the 1920s, are perfectly preserved.

Roberto Rojas dress from 1967 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

More than celebrating one woman’s love of fashion, the show highlights the humanity of clothes.  Schreier hasn’t just been preserving fashion as one would art. She’s been preserving tangible parts of society and culture. When we watch old movies or try to conjure images of decades past, this is how we dress people in our heads. Schreier has simply managed to find the actual clothes.

In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection is on view at the Met from November 27, 2019 to May 17, 2020.

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