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“Nan Kempner: American Chic” Opens Today at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

Nan Kempner: American Chic
Photo: Bruce Weber

“Fashion is an art. When you look at paintings in museums, you see a reflection of how women dressed in certain eras. A designer is as much of an artist as an author, painter, or architect. Fashion design is, after all, architecture for the body.” – Nan Kempner

Today, Nan Kempner: American Chic opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I had the privilege of attending the press preview and it was a great experience. Personal friends of Nan Kempner spoke about her passion for fashion and her joie de vivre. Anecdotes of Mrs. Kempner’s use of extra bedrooms and bathrooms as closets, the use of wire hangers because you could “fit more in!” and the color coordination of sweaters all gave a glimpse into her world.

John Buchanan, Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco noted two things that singled Nan out as an important fashion connoisseur. First, she approached the collecting of couture in much the same way that a person would approach the collecting of prints, paintings and art. She collected couture for over 50 years and she “groomed and enhanced” her collection over the course of her life. Second, Nan was a muse for 2 leading designers and their work: Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino. To collect is one thing, but to be an inspiration is something only very special people are capable of.

Harold Koda, Costume Institute Chief of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, curated the exhibit and spoke of his experience reviewing Mrs. Kempner’s entire collection. Over the course of 50 years, Nan Kempner accumulated over 5,000 pieces of clothing – of those, 3,000 are Haute Couture pieces. As a collector, Mrs. Kempner edited pieces out of her collection. She eliminated pieces that were “passing fancy” and kept the core of what she felt was true couture, mainly pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Balmain, and Chanel.

The exhibition at the de Young has over 90 pieces in it – approximately 25 pieces are viewable only at the San Francisco exhibit. “Nan Kempner: American Chic” runs through November 11, 2007. The show is only one of a series of fashion/couture exhibitions coming to the de Young Museum and we have some more shows to look forward to including a Yves Saint Laurent exhibit in the Autumn of 2008.

More Pictures & de Young Visitor Information after the jump . . .

Photos courtesy of Natalie Zee Drieu of Coquette
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The de Young Museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, modern and contemporary art, art from Central and South America, the Pacific and Africa.

Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Friday: 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.
Closed on Monday
Admission: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $6 youths 13-17 and students with college I.D. Members and children under 12 are free. The first Tuesday of every month is free.

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