Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style

Jul 17, 2023

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Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style
January 20–August 11, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO — From bohemian styles to elegant evening wear, fashion is a form of personal expression for San Franciscans, inspired by the city’s location on the Pacific Rim and its inclusive mindset. Spanning a century of high fashion and haute couture worn by Bay Area women, the exhibition Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style at the de Young museum will examine the role of style as a marker of social identity. 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 displayed for the very first time.

“The Fine Arts Museums’ costume collection is one of the strongest in the country, advanced over decades by generous gifts from Bay Area residents. Likewise, the museum is renowned for its vibrant and wide-ranging fashion exhibitions. As the city’s museum, we are now thrilled to present stunning selections from our costume collection in an exhibition that examines the city’s evolving style ethos,” states Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Fashioning San Francisco is a rich presentation that asserts the case that San Francisco does, and has always had, style.”

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are home to one of the most significant collections of 20th- and 21st-century women’s costume in the United States, including exemplary gifts of high fashion and haute couture from Bay Area women philanthropists. Fashioning San Francisco—the first exhibition to share a richness of works from the costume collection in more than 35 years—will explore how women’s fashions have molded, and been molded by, the city of San Francisco.

Fashioning San Francisco situates the 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 is 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 manifests in the dress codes of its prominent women. Such manifestations include 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 iconic 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 black dresses from 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, through 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 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 fine leather craftsmanship to embellishments of bright colors and spangles, this section of the exhibition will assert that shoes 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 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.

Fashions on view by:

Pierre Balmain

Frederick Gibson Bayh

Geoffrey Beene

Manolo Blahnik


Bill Blass

Louise Boulanger

Thea Cadabra-Rooke

Callot Soeurs

Roberto Capucci

Gabrielle Chanel

Comme des Garçons

Sybil Connolly

Jacques Costet

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

Oscar de la Renta

Herman Delman

Markis Der Balian

Marchesa Olga di Grésy

Christian Dior

Jacques Fath

Gianfranco Ferré

Mariano Fortuny

James Galanos

John Galliano

Valentino Garavani

Jean Paul Gaultier

Madame Alix Grès

Peggy Hoyt

Charles Jourdan

Rei Kawakubo

Christian Lacroix

Julio Laffitte

Karl Lagerfeld

Jeanne Lanvin

Beth Levine


Alexander McQueen

Issey Miyake

Kei Ninomiya                                                        

On Aura Tout Vu

Edwin Oudshoorn

Jean Patou



Christopher John Rogers

Ralph Rucci

Yves Saint Laurent

Richard Tam

Vivienne Tam

Emanuel Ungaro

Roger Vivier

Junya Watanabe

Vivienne Westwood

Kaisik Wong

Yohji Yamamoto

Pietro Yantorny

Zhang Hongtu 

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Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue, which will serve as a handbook for these holdings.

Exhibition Organization
Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Presenting Support provided by John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn. Leading Support provided by The Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund and Diane B. Wilsey. Major support provided by Yurie and Carl Pascarella, Denise Littlefield Sobel, and Christine Suppes. Significant support provided by Carole McNeil and The Diana Dollar Knowles Foundation. Generous support is provided by Lorna Meyer Calas and Dennis Calas, and the Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Additional support is provided by Sandra Beissieres, Dr. Roger Budge and Ms. Leslee Jane Budge, Dana and Gregory Lee - Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation, Cathy and Howard Moreland, Jan and Bob Newman, and Gwynned Vitello.

Visiting \ de Young
The de Young Museum is open Tue - Sun 9.30 am - 5.15 pm. For more information, please visit

About the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts
With holdings that span nearly three millennia and represent cultures from 125 countries, the costume and textile arts collection draws connections across cultures and enriches other areas of the permanent collection. The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts contains more than 22,000 textiles and costumes from around the world. A remarkable range of techniques is represented in the works, which include loom-woven textiles, nonwoven fabrics (such as bark cloth, felt, and knitting), and objects embellished with beading and embroidery. Highlights from the collection include extraordinary Turkmen carpets, rare 12th- through 15th-century Central Asian and North Indian silks, the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey, European tapestries, exquisite ecclesiastical textiles, and contemporary Bay Area fiber art. The de Young is known for its 20th-century couture, particularly from the post–World War II era, with outstanding pieces by Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior, Madame Grès, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Past fashion exhibitions include Yves Saint Laurent (2008–2009), Balenciaga and Spain (2011), The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (2012), Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective (2016), The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll (2017), Contemporary Muslim Fashions (2018), Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love (2021) and Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy (2022).

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young museum, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco, and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States. 

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections on view include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco respectfully acknowledge the Ramaytush Ohlone, the original inhabitants of what is now the San Francisco Peninsula, and acknowledge that the Greater Bay Area is the ancestral territory of the Miwok, Yokuts, Patwin, and other Ohlone. Indigenous communities have lived in and moved through this place over hundreds of generations, and Indigenous peoples from many nations make their home in this region today. Please join us in recognizing and honoring their ancestors, descendants, elders, and communities.