Elite Elegance: COUTURE FASHION IN THE 1950s at the Royal Ontario Musem (100 Queen's Park) to May 4. 416-586-5549. Rating: NNN
The title of this show is no lie. On display is the finest haute couture worn by Toronto socialites to luncheons, openings and galas during the 50s. This is a very serious show about very serious fashion -- Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Givenchy in their prime.Designed by design gurus Yabu Pushelberg, the exhibit is like a Rosedale mansion with writing all over the walls. True to ROM form, it's an informative look at the fashion of the period, with bios of the designers, best-dressed lists and quotes from the papers. In the times-have-changed department, a piece from the Globe describes a Dior gown as fit for a woman who couldn't possibly lift any book heavier than a fashion magazine.
Most of the clothing was imported by Holt Renfrew, Simpson's and Eatons, the last of which, ironically, shut its doors for good after a failed attempt to revive its reputation as a purveyor of high fashion.
The styles of the 50s are marked by rounded shoulders, tiny waists (the girdles, waist cinchers and merry widows on display reveal the inner magic of these impossibly small midsections) and the use of oodles of fabric for flowing lines.
The clothes, ranging from almost grandmotherly day outfits with cape-like coats to evening frocks, are also very sculptural, boasting intricate folds, stitching and embroidery.
But when you see similar finery modelled in one of the several 50s films showing on video as part of the exhibit, you realize something's missing. For all their elegance, the clothes hang lifelessly on the mannequins. Without the women inside them, they're just fancy shells.