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Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Arranged in a ballet-like fashion, on display at the Met, are couture gowns from Sandy Schreier’s private collection.

Sandy’s fascination with fashion began when she was 7-years old and living with her family in Detroit. Detroit’s elite, the Fords, the Dodges, and the Chryslers were customers in her father’s store. They often found Sandy looking through the Vogue and Bazaar magazines and were enchanted by her love for fashion. Before long they began gifting her with the couture gowns which they wore, according to the etiquette, just once. Sandy never wore these clothes as she saw them for what they were - works of art. Schreier continued acquiring new pieces assembling the largest private couture collection in the world.

"When I was about 7, I remember a limousine pulling up in front of my father's store and the chauffeur walking in with a package labeled, 'For Sandy Miller.' One of Daddy's clients had sent me a gown," said Ms. Schreier.

Haute couture is; design without boundaries, governed only by beauty. A form of wearable art where the dress and a woman become an art form. Although the honors are designated to the designers, there is another counterpart necessary to seal the creative circle. Every couture gown requires a craftsman or craftswomen who is equally adept in their skills. One without the other and the gown will not exist. So the gowns you see atop the pedestals are graceful awards to both.

This whimsical Karl Lagerfeld sheath reflects a designer’s gratitude to the needleworkers. The dress within the dress is designed in trompe l’oeil style and embroidered with thousands of polychrome sequins showcasing this unique craft.

Karl Lagerfeld, Dress, spring/summer 1984, for Chloé

As a designer, I’m always curious to see the point of conception. The beginning of the design process is marked with a thought, a glimpse into the imagination that eventually materializes into a sketch. The designer’s drawing is a manifestation of the will and a document demanding action. It’s passed on to an army of skillful drapers, embroiderers, and seamstresses that bring the thought to life.

Let’s not forget the material part of the process: textiles and laces. Often the cloth itself becomes a source of inspiration due to its luxe tactile nature. It’s the fabric, its rhythm, and its visual characteristics that dictate the future purpose of the piece.

This "Du Barry" evening dress by the House of Dior is an epitome of the Cinderella-like transformation we all love to witness.

"Du Barry" evening gown by Christian Dior, 1957

One of the most memorable pieces in the collection is this hat by Philip Treacy harboring dozens of colorful butterflies made of painted turkey feathers. As an allegory of metamorphosis butterflies are often a source of designers’ inspiration.

Rhythmic rows, flounces, and blooms decorate this flamenco-inspired gown by Cristóbal Balenciaga. The black silk gazar holds the sculptural form while allowing for subtle volume.

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Evening Dress, Summer 1961 for House of Balenciaga

The spirit of the 1960s is evident in this gold and silver metal mesh mini dress by Roberto Rojas. Supermodel Twiggy is photographed by Richard Averon and the photo projects the image of the time. Unlike the aesthetic of the previous decade, the new style didn’t require structured undergarments to be worn underneath. The simple design of the dress with the plunging back is baring the model’s slim, boyish body.

“I always saw myself as a fashion savior,” “My passion for fashion as an art form drove me to search for the most innovative, creative, and breathtaking objects by well-known and lesser-known talents. I am elated that these pieces will live on as my legacy at The Met, where they can be conserved and shared with the public, designers, and scholars for eternity,” said Ms. Schreier.

The art of couture lives on to inspire the next generation of designers eager to explore its traditions.

The "In Pursuit of Fashion" exhibition is on display at the Met through May 17, 2020. Visit and share your experience with the art of couture.

Until then…stay inspired.

Asi Efros

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