“Chic Chicago, ” the newest exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, highlights more than fifty high-end couture gowns chosen from the museum’s collection of more than 50,000 historical pieces. The exhibit is a unique juxtaposition of high-brow and low-brow, of silk, pearls and satin set against a backdrop of soot, metal and blood. In a city famous for its slaughterhouses and gangsters, Chicago’s elite sought to rise above their hometown’s stigma by flaunting fashion from the most expensive and cutting-edge couture boutiques in Europe. On display are dresses donned by notable Chicago women between 1861 and 2008: Mrs. Potter Palmer II was presented to the Queen of England in a chiffon Madeleine Vionnet gown in 1938; nearly sixty years later, Oprah Winfrey wore a Chanel evening gown she purchased on Michigan Avenue. While admiring the exquisite beauty of these fashion masterpieces, visitors are constantly reminded of the gritty, industrial city in which these gowns were worn. At a mirrored vanity against one wall, guests are welcome to apply the perfume of their choice: Chanel’s infamous No. 5… or the timeless stink of the stockyard. (Laura Hawbaker)
“Chic Chicago” runs at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark, through July 26, 2009.