Wednesday, July 21, 2010


You don't know who Pietro Yantorny is? Neither did I, until 5 o'clock this afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum's "American Woman" exhibit. He is an Italian shoemaker (b. 1874; d. 1936), and he made some shoes that looked straight out of the court of Louis the Sun King. At least, that's what the shoes displayed at this exhibit reminded me of.

Essentially a costume exhibit about the world of the American woman as described by Condé Nast, the idea is to show off beautiful dresses, skirts, capes, blouses, and shoes (and, okay, tables and lamps) as worn and arranged by the people Veblen wrote about. We know these people well.

Yet: I spot so very few Italian words ending in y that I had to take this one down. It was close enough, an Italian instead of Italian. Among fashion people Yantorny is well known. The Bata Shoe Museum featured him in its shoe of the month podcast last May.

The Met had placed a muster of his creations in a viewing box near the entryway of its Bohemian Room ("Afternoon of a Faun" was playing, and the walls bore a Tiffany motif). The shoes, filled with wooden trees, were sitting pretty on wheat-gold velvet in a case that might have gone on to a second life as a home for a silver service. It's really too bad that shoe trees are so rare these days. They are handy.

The shoes themselves were made of "silk satin, silk velvet, cream Venetian gros-point lace, metallic sequins, and glass beads." Cream Venetian gros-point lace? What is that, exactly?

It's difficult in an era when flip-flops are considered shoes--and fashionable shoes at that--to walk through the exhibit and not become just a bit wistful. American women have so little left of what might be termed Kimono Culture. True, it's nice to pull on jeans and a t-shirt and slouch across the city, but there is also something worthwhile, I think, in devoting time and attention to assemble and layer and juxtapose in order to create something fine. We can't all be Garanimals. We can't all be Lady Gaga. I like putting on a cocktail dress every once in a while. (I watch "Mad Men" to see people wearing actual clothing on any given day. "The Light in the Piazza" was satisfying this way, as well.)

For dress-dreaming purposes, the exhibit had some excellent candidates. There were two Charles James dresses that appealed to my penchant for gathers, fluting, pleats, and ruching. There was also two Madame Grès (née Germaine Emilie Krebs) gowns along these lines.

The dress I had trouble stepping away from seemed appropriate for a night on Gramercy Park c. 1910, or a celebratory feast in a deep green forest in Russia or Sweden--possibly Germany. Musicians, oysters, a long table, and a bowl of punch would figure in somehow.

When looking at dresses, I imagine most women (and some men) tend to try them on. Oh, I could wear that. I'd like to wear that. I would wear that. (A woman looking at the Yantorny shoes said this last.)

The feast dress was so pretty, though, it seemed to me that one doesn't put it on or wear it. At the risk of sounding like a Patek Philippe ad, I would say that the dress calls for a word like array or bedeck. It's the kind of dress Lady Godiva wore invisibly as she rode.

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