For a fun and enlightening indoor activity, escape the heat and see true artistic craftsmanship in fashion at the Carolina Herrera “Refined Irreverence.” A dual exhibit at the Savannah College of Art and Design. with seventy-five pieces of women’s formal wear, created by the “first lady of fashion,” are displayed at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film in Atlanta and at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah. The exhibit is the first museum showing of Herrera’s work and celebrates the 35th anniversary of the House of Herrera. The exhibit runs through Sept. 4 in Savannah and through Sept. 25 in Atlanta.

Venezuelan born Herrera opened her fashion studio in New York in 1981, but her love of beautiful things started much earlier. Herrera’s socialite grandmother took her to fashion shows at a young age and purchased outfits for her from Dior. For more than three decades, celebrities, socialites and presidential first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama have worn her timeless and feminine designs.

Many designers have a distinct trademark look with certain fabrics, colors or silhouettes. This exhibit shows Herrera’s 35-year career in fashion and the array of trims, lush fabrics and colors that she has used over the years. Vivid colors along with muted tones share timeless appeal. Herrera has created styles for all body types and seasons of life. There is something for all generations of fashion lovers to enjoy in the collection.

With my love of sewing and quality garment construction, I was in absolute heaven as I strolled past SCAD’s artful display of Herrera’s work from 1981 to the present. Many gowns were labeled with the name of the celebrity or socialite who wore it where and when. After reading sign near a truly feminine and classic black strapless full-length gown, I was surprised to read that Lady Gaga wore it. I didn’t know the “Princess of Pop” had that much taste.

I enjoyed the gentle walk through time -- not a jarring “smack in your face” of ‘80s designs. In Savannah, the exhibit begins with a suspended staircase featuring flowing gowns in muted tones. As you walk through the exhibit, the pieces become more iconic. In a glass case at the end of the tour is a black velvet motorcycle jacket with brass, amber and iridescent stone studs and ample shoulder pads from 1989.

Seeing a display of Herrera’s work in one collection, a few themes come to mind. If it’s classically feminine with luscious details, it’s Carolina Herrera. She creates iconic silhouettes that celebrate the female form without being vulgar. For example, I saw several dresses with the timeless feminine touch of a thin ribbon or belt emphasizing the waist. Her choice of fabrics and the unabashed way in which she features them in cascading hems is over-indulgent and classic at the same time. Herrera unapologetically uses fur, features, and thin pieces of geometric foam as trim on her gowns.

My favorite display is the juxtaposition of the 1981 ecru overflowing puffed sleeves, peasant bodice and bell skirt next to the 2008 watercolor pleated hi-low strapless. Styles evolve but appeal to many regardless of the year and current styles.

If you are crushing on Carolina Herrera’s style and want to touch, try-on and own a piece of her line, go to the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta to the Carolina Herrera (CH) store. The store contains men’s and children’s clothing, accessories for the whole family and plenty of shoes and clothes for women sizes 0 to 12. Shoes run sizes 6-10. Here you can see hand-sewn suits for men, finished seams and dressmaker details that truly make Carolina Herrera’s clothing luxurious and timeless. ■

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