THE LAUNCH OF CHRISTINE SUPPES’ BOOK ELECTRIC FASHION
This spring, Christine Suppes, the art patron, couture collector, and trailblazing fashion editor, launched the international tour of her latest book, Electric Fashion, at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, followed by a national launch at San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus.
LAUNCH AT LONDON’S VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM
The book was launched internationally with a party for 400 at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Founded in 1852, it’s the world’s largest art and design museum, home to a comprehensive fashion collection spanning four centuries. The museum is so vast that even after a year of visits in connection with my Sotheby’s Decorative Arts Course, there were galleries I still hadn’t seen.
What an extraordinary coup for Suppes to be given the opportunity to showcase her own unique fashion collection in the same room as the Raphael Cartoons, which are among the greatest treasures of the Renaissance.
In a bit of serendipitous timing for her V&A fashion book party, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was being exhibited at the same time, which in 2011 was a blockbuster show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The stars aligned this night for Suppes.
EARLY FASHION INFLUENCE
It’s surprising that a native Californian based in Palo Alto, hardly a fashion center, could acquire such fashion knowhow. Suppes attributes her love of and astuteness about fashion to her mother, Jane Johnson. In Hillsborough, Johnson organized and modeled for charity fashion shows, which led to Suppes meeting icons such as James Galanos, Christian Lacroix, and Geoffrey Beene, from whom she absorbed “fashion detail” at an early age.
“White gloves and hats were de rigueur until the mid-sixties,” Suppes recalls. “And then everything in our city changed.” Many SF natives lament the loss of this elegance, as these days it seems so many wear blue jeans, which ironically were first manufactured in San Francisco by the legendary Levi Strauss.
THE BIRTH OF A FASHION CURATOR
Suppes was able to indulge her love of fashion thanks to her late husband, Patrick Suppes, a philosophy professor at Stanford University and a Silicon Valley pioneer. He was among the first to see the importance of computers in the classroom, and when he sold his software company in 1990, Suppes said, her clothing allowance increased and she began collecting “the clothes of my dreams.”
As an outlet for self-expression and a means to share her knowledge and opinions, Suppes began to write about fashion online. Like others from Silicon Valley, she saw the future and in 1999 created her own website, Fashionlines.com, one of the first online fashion publications in the world.
BLOGGING IN PARIS
Suppes was one of the first bloggers invited to the Paris shows, though, she says with a laugh, buying and wearing Chanel “helped” get her the invitation. Traveling regularly to New York and Paris influenced her vision and personal style, and she began collecting haute couture, “the laboratory of fashion.”
PATRON OF HIGH FASHION
Since these days it seems everyone is a “fashion blogger,” even children, Suppes decided to transition from writing about fashion to underwriting fashion exhibitions. She became a Major Patron of the de Young museum’s 2008 Yves Saint Laurent retrospective and then of the opulent 2011 Balenciaga and Spain retrospective, both organized by John Buchanan, the late Director of SF Fine Arts Museums. Balenciaga and Spain was also guest curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles.
Suppes’ latest project, Electric Fashion, was five years in the making. At her national book launch in the historic Neiman Marcus rotunda, she was joined by her collaborator on the book, Swiss fashion photographer Frederic Aranda.
Fashion Director and SVP Ken Downing, who wrote the book’s forward, flew in from Dallas. He describes the book’s curated collection as “elegant, eclectic, and at times eccentric, like the passionate persona whose lifelong love of fashion propelled her pursuit.”
A discussion at the book launch was moderated by San Francisco Chronicle features reporter Carolyne Zinko, who writes some of the best personality profiles in the city and Silicon Valley. When Zinko asked how Suppes decided what to buy at the Paris showing, Suppes said if you’re a collector, “You just know!”
With her unique style, I also learned that often Suppes’ choices are made through the personal way she connects with a designer and his fashion sense. To her, fashion is art like any other form of creative expression.
THE BOOK’S GENESIS
Originally, Suppes and Aranda planned to take the garments stored in her climate-controlled basement and simply organize, catalogue, and photograph them on mannequins in a studio for inventory and archival purposes.
But eventually the duo decided to try something more ambitious and creative. Aranda persuaded Suppes to be the model and let him photograph her wearing her extravagant and exotic couture pieces in dramatic international locales such as San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris, and London. The result is a collection of images that is fantastical, glamorous, and gorgeous to behold.
MORE PIECES FROM THE COLLECTION
The pieces featured in Electric Fashion range from haute couture to custom-made ready-to-wear, from simple, poignant pieces to extravagant and abstract works of art, by both established and up-and-coming designers.
Often, the portraits of Suppes are accompanied by studio photos of the garment and close-ups of the details, brilliantly illuminating the artistry and craft of couture. I particularly enjoy seeing the workmanship that goes into the pieces, which gives me a deeper appreciation of the construction and the painstaking attention to detail.
Seeing Suppes modeling her own collection gives a personal, intimate view of how it has evolved over the years. With an artistic eye and passion for fashion, she created an individualistic, museum-quality collection of things she actually wears.
With the V&A exhibition and all the book’s fanfare, other museums are chasing after her to showcase more of these fantasy items from her vast and remarkable collection. And I’m anticipating her next book!
FASHION LOVERS IN ATTENDANCE
At the Neiman Marcus launch party was Boaz Mazor, visiting from New York to present the first collection of Oscar de La Renta by the new Creative Director Peter Copping, the former artistic director for Nina Ricci. Earlier in May, Carol McNeil and Gina Peterson hosted a breakfast to introduce Copping to the ladies who love their Oscars, especially for grand occasions.
Photographs by Drew Altizer, Frederick Aranda, and Grete Hjorth-Johanse.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.