“Fashioning San Francisco” Exhibit Coming to The De Young

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the “Fine Arts Museums”) and Snap Inc. have announced an interactive augmented reality installation at the de Young museum that celebrates how technology is transforming the way we experience fashion and culture.

It will launch on January 20, 2024, at the opening of the Fine Arts Museums’ major exhibition Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style, which spans a century of high fashion and haute couture worn by Bay Area women. It marks the first time Snap’s AR Mirrors have been featured in a US museum.

From bohemian styles to elegant evening wear, fashion is an important form of personal expression for San Franciscans, inspired by the city’s location on the Pacific Rim and its inclusive mindset. Drawn from the Fine Arts Museums’ exceptional costume holdings, Fashioning San Francisco will present the work of more than 50 fashion designers, from Balmain to Miyake, Valentino to McQueen, with the majority of ensembles to be on view for the very first time.

Snapchat augmented reality will give visitors the chance to see how three evening ensembles presented in the exhibition look on them. This technology will immerse them in the creative vision of some of the world’s most iconic designers, as they virtually try on outfits by the late French designer Yves Saint Laurent, Chinese-American Bay Area-based designer Kaisik Wong, and Italian designer Valentino.

Fashioning San Francisco chronicles the ways in which style in the Bay Area has evolved over generations. Thanks to Snap’s augmented reality mirrors our visitors will have the opportunity to visualize themselves as a part of this history and to imagine their role in charting the city’s next sartorial chapter,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

“This project showcases how Snapchat can support the arts by using augmented reality in innovative, impactful, and stylish ways,” said Rajni Jacques, Global Head of Fashion & Beauty at Snap Inc. “Our partnership with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is a testament to how augmented reality can infiltrate culture, encourage creativity and self expression, and bring historic couture to life like never before.”

Snap’s AR Mirrors bridge the gap between the digital and physical, bringing together its AR technology stack designed specifically for physical screens to capture real-time images via a camera that projects onto the screen with AR. This exhibition will demonstrate how augmented reality can reconfigure conception of the body, across size, shape, and gender, as well as illustrate how physical fashion designs can be enhanced through the digital realm.

Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style

Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style will examine the role of style as a marker of social identity. The exhibition draws mainly from the significant costume collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; including a rich selection of high fashion and haute couture ensembles generously donated by Bay Area women philanthropists.

Fashioning San Francisco situates the Fine Arts Museums’ remarkable high fashion and haute couture collections within the context of the city’s development and the ascension of Bay Area women as civic, social, cultural, and sartorial leaders,” states Laura L. Camerlengo, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “These individuals further contributed to the cultural fiber of their communities by donating their wardrobes to the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco for the preservation and the benefit of future generations. We are delighted to honor and elevate their legacies.”

Fashioning San Francisco commences in the early 20th century, a time when San Francisco was regaining its position and redefining itself in the wake of the city’s earthquake and fire in 1906. The city’s desire to assert its international status in the wake of disaster manifested in the dress codes of its prominent women. Such manifestations included imported French fashions brought into the city through its port, as well as presentations of French couture gowns at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, French peoples formed one of the largest immigrant communities in San Francisco, and upon their arrival, they began importing French goods. The exhibition will feature a number of early French designs including rare Callot Sœurs and Lucile gowns, which attest to San Francisco’s burgeoning affluence and cosmopolitanism.

From here the exhibition continues chronologically to explore how the city’s geographic location further contributed to the blossoming of international trade in the city, including the rise of department stores as importers of European haute couture in the mid-20th century. San Francisco boasted a robust economy, fostering legendary department stores such as I. Magnin, City of Paris, The White House, and Lilli Ann. These and others played a critical role in the development of San Franciscan style.

Indeed, the allure of luxury runs deep in San Francisco’s style ethos, aligned with the city’s active social calendar, itself fueled by the city’s vibrant cultural sector. With these events offering fashion and civic leaders opportunities to dress their best, Fashioning San Francisco will feature gowns, cocktail dresses, and evening attire by European couturiers such as Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior—many once retailed by the city’s department stores and worn to major society events. The exhibition will also dedicate a section to the most indispensable piece in a wardrobe, “the little black dress,” featuring spectacular interpretations by Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfield, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, and more.

San Franciscans have a long-standing history of being among the first to embrace the experimental in dress, both supporting and wearing designers with a knack for the radical. Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto will be featured in a section that explores the avant-garde creatives redefined conventional fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fashioning San Francisco will also explore the work of Western designers who have been inspired by the aesthetics of Asian, African, and other international cultures to address cultural appropriation and its contemporary discourse.

Fashioning San Francisco will honor San Francisco Bay Area women civic leaders, business owners, and public influencers, by presenting the “power suits” they wore as they helped shape and build the city. Indicative of San Francisco, these suits embody the city’s specific climate, terrain, and varied aesthetics, presenting San Francisco as a working city for confident women.

The exhibition will conclude with a selection of shoes from the Fine Arts Museums’ permanent collection, highlighting a mix of materials and styles that reflect the diverse roles and tastes of the San Franciscans who wore them. From their fine leather craftsmanship to embellishments of bright colors, spangles and shoes in this section of the exhibition will assert footwear are an important accessory in establishing their wearer’s sense of self.

As traditional studies of fashion history have prioritized designers and narratives from the so-called “major” fashion cities of Paris, Milan, London, and New York, Fashioning San Francisco challenges the conventional notions of what makes a “fashion city.”

Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style is curated by Laura L. Camerlengo, Curator in Charge of Costume and Textile Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It will be on view at the de Young museum January 20 through August 11, 2024. Famsf.org \ @deyoungmuseum