Cars and Clothing Collide at the Petersen Automotive Museum


by Kelly Boyd

The Petersen Automotive Museum recently opened a special exhibition titled Automotivated: Streamlined Fashion and Automobiles, showcasing the connection between early car design and fashion, covering the period from 1913 to 1938.  The show is produced in partnership with the Phoenix Art Museum and was inspired by the 2007 Phoenix Art Museum fashion exhibition Automotivated.

In the early years of the car, the passenger drove in an open cab and was exposed to the elements, necessitating that one dress for the journey and not the destination.  Floor length dusters in neutral colors accommodated the large skirts of the early 1900s and ensured that clothing was not damaged in transit.

As automobile design evolved, and the closed cab was introduced, designers were freer to design clothing that embodied the new streamlined aesthetic.  The Art Deco movement is particularly well represented in the exhibition, pairing a Coco Chanel dress with a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom.  The focus on simplicity and streamlining continues with Hattie Carnegie and Jeanne Lanvin ensembles paired with a 1934 La Salle Series 350 Convertible Coupe and a 1938 Delahaye 135M Roadster, respectively.  The Delahaye is a particular treat, as only 10 of these cars were ever produced, and the one showcased here is one of only three known to survive.

It can be difficult to think of an invention that has had greater influence on the way we live than the automobile.  As this show demonstrates, automotive design shaped and reflected how people dressed and lived.  In Los Angeles, where the car functions as another layer of clothing that we use to define ourselves, this exhibition has particular resonance.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.  Automotivated: Streamlined Fashion and Automobiles runs through January 23rd, 2011.  Adult admission is $10.00, with discounts given for seniors, students and children.

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