Playing Dress Up

If you were a woman of certain means (meaning, a lot of means) and had some fancy-do-dah where to go—your husband’s night club, say, or the Academy Awards to pick up yours—you would need a fancy-do-dah frock to announce your right to be there.

And if you were amongst the ladies of stratospheric means, you would want Arnold Scaasi to come up with it.

This old thing? Really darling, you’re too too much of a flatterer…
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Arnold Scaasi Collection
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Mr. Scaasi has spent the last 55 years (retired now, alas) making some of the most technically dazzling, stunningly luxurious outfits ever worn by women of wealth, and more than 100 of those outfits have been donated to the MFA. The Scaasi: American Couturier exhibit showcases 28 of these, worn by just four of his clients, and all I can say is, what clients! what clothes!

Oh, the coat lining and the dress match? Is it too much?

Scaasi (which is Issacs—his actual last name—spelled backwards) was successful from the get-go, and his oeuvre was custom designed/made items that required 65 separate measurements to get them right.

Oh yes, we’re sisters. Scaasi sisters.

His clients loved him and how he made them look, and many became friends. And with friends like actress Arlene Francis, nightclub owner’s wife Joetta  Norban, super-uber rich Gayfryd Steinberg, and Barbara Streisand, could you possibly have enemies?

Babs, you so deserved that Oscar! And your tushie looked very cute in this. 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Arnold Scaasi Collection
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I have named his style splash-wear, as in “You had to splash out a lot of money for that dress, didn’t you?”

Cost of material: over $1,300 per yard. Amount of material: yards and yards.

The 28 pieces in this exhibit are sumptuous and event-specific. These are not things you would don to pop into the market for milk, baloney, and peanut butter. These are things that announce, “I am here. And I am here.”

That Scaasi’s a genius–half of my dress is made out of plastic! 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Arnold Scaasi Collection
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The wonderful thing about this exhibit is how close you can get to the clothes. You can get this close:

Not a stitch out of place.

But you can also stand back and get a frisson of the breadth and detail produced by Scaasi.

Oh, is that the caviar?

The clothing in this exhibit are examples of fine workmanship and attention to detail. Each and every piece is beautifully designed, the fabrics expertly chosen and pared, and the sewing top-notch.

All this beading is lovely, but the dress weighs about 22 pounds.

Even if you aren’t the daughter of a self-taught seamstress—a seamstress who once hand-sewed seventeen yards of lace to her god-daughter’s wedding dress—the Scaasi exhibit at the MFA will knock your socks off.

As usual, the curators at the MFA have done a fabulous job of creating a cohesive, approachable exhibit. It’s like walking into a live Vogue photo spread.

Photograph courtesy of Wan Chi Lau

Scaasi: American Couturier

Saturday, September 25, 2010 – Sunday, June 19, 2011

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Avenue of the Arts
Boston, Massachusetts 02115-5523
TTY: 617-267-9703

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