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Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

Written by Fashion Publishing | Dec 15, 2011.

photo by Cecil Beaton

Tuesday marked the last day of this semester’s Fashion Publishing class, and to change it up we  went to see the “Cecil Beaton: The New York Years” show at the Museum of the City of New York. Beaton, a British born photographer and designer, was shooting portraits of Hollywood greats during its nacent 1920s and into the 60s (including the one of Ms. Monroe, above), many of them in his New York apartment. We see the Astaire’s yucking it up, a perfect Marlon Brando, who I’m kissing below, Hepburn in his “My Fair Lady” designs, among others.

Brando Avec Moi

My class had been to one other exhibit this semester at ICP, the Harper’s Bazaar show, and found it lackluster at best. So this was a bang-up change from that. In fact, everything lousy about that show that my student Julia articulately complained about on the Parsons blog was the polar opposite here. The work was arranged subject by subject, which made it easy to follow and absorb. The curatorial design was stunning, and incorporated Beaton’s own designs; the Beaton-inspired wallpaper alone garnered a collective swoon upon entering the passageway that leads to the show. There were costumes on display from his opera years (La Traviata!), and fashion illustrations with swatches of fabric adhered to them, which two of my cooing students noticed and loved.

Beaton was interested in fame, and apparently donned a phony and exaggerated Hollywood accent. It’s no surprise that he was longtime pals with Truman Capote, who he began to resent when In Cold Blood propelled Capote’s fame far out of orbit from his own. It’s also no surprise that he found himself in the company of Andy Warhol shooting his factory scene. If I close my eyes, I can pluck Beaton from one of his self-portraits and hear him say “Can-dy, Dahhlling.”

This museum is such a quiet treasure in our city. If you go, be sure to check out another room or two. I paused for a long time at the Stettheimer dollhouse, which includes, among other treasures, a miniature wall hanging from the sisters’ friend Marcel Duchamp. I’ve only been to MCNY a handful of times in my years in New York, and rather than mourn the shows I’ve missed I make a promise to myself to check in more frequently.

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