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RTM Department: Betty D. Eastin Collection: Mona Bismarck Collection

This research guide acts as a resource for those interested in the field of historic costume. This guide was created by Sarah K. Piester for her Master of Science degree in Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles.

Mona Bismarck Historic Garments

The above image of Mona Bismarck was painted by Salvador Dali (Spanish 1904-1989) in 1943 and is from the catalog for the Kentucky Countess exhibition in 1997 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. The description of each garment, located on the right, was copied from the exhibit labels.

As of fall 2013 Merchandising, Apparel, & Textiles (MAT) is one major within the Department of Retail and Tourism Management. 

Introduction

Mona Bismarck (1897-1983) was a Kentucky native and the subject of the exhibition, Kentucky Countess: Mona Bismarck in Art & Fashion in 1997. Mona was voted best-dressed woman in the world several times in the 1930s and '40s as noted by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins in their book The Power of Style: The women who defined the art of living well (1994). The Betty D. Eastin collection acquired Mona's garments from the Smithsonian Institution in 1979. These garments were gifted to the Eastin collection because of Mona's Kentucky roots.  

Evening Dress

Fabric: Apricot and Silver lame

Designer: Balenciaga. Winter 1966

Worn by: Mona Williams Bismarck

Description: In 1966, Vogue christened Balenciaga’s Winter line as “silver-in-the-pink” for his designs featuring an unusual metallic lame. Shiny, reflective fabrics had become increasingly popular with designers and style-savvy customers during the 1960s as a result of worldwide preoccupation in the space walks - and space suits - of John Glenn and his fellow astronauts.

University of Kentucky Betty D Eastin Historical Costume Collection

Department of Retailing and Tourism Management

Gift of the Smithsonian Institution 79.9.8

Cocktail Ensemble

Fabric: Black silk gazar dress and matching cape with gold, pink and mother-of-pearl paillettes and glass appliqués

Designer: Balenciaga. Winter 4967

Worn by: Mona Williams Bismarck

Description: Balenciaga was known for his manipulation of proportion, such as in this ensemble. The lavish concentration of iridescent mother-of-pearl paillettes, gold spheres and hearts, pink half moons, and glass crystals sewn at the hem and on the matching cape directs the viewer’s eye toward the face and legs and away from the midriff to create the illusion of an elongated lithe body.

University of Kentucky Betty D Eastin Historical Costume Collection

Department of Retailing and Tourism Management

Gift of the Smithsonian Institution 79.9.17a

Tunic With Matching Skirt

Fabric: Yellow Orange linen

Designer: Balenciaga. Spring 1963

Worn by: Mona Williams Bismarck

Description: In 1955, Balenciaga introduced a linen tunic dress that was notable for his superlative cut and construction. His masterful design proved so influential, that it has been elaborated on by almost every major designer in French couture, including, Balenciaga himself in subsequent seasons. The “skimmed-front loose-in-back” design complements the less than svelte by suggesting a willowy body beneath the dress. In addition to being flattering, the tunic set was also flexible, adapting to a variety of activities merely by switching accessories. The matching gloves and hat worn to lunch or shopping were easily exchanged for jewels and a fur neck wrap when worn for evening cocktails.

University of Kentucky Betty D Eastin Historical Costume Collection

Department of Retailing and Tourism Management

Gift of the Smithsonian Institution 79.9.10

Double-Breasted Suit

Fabric: Cream wool with golden-plated buttons

Designer: Balenciaga. Spring 1964

Worn by: Mona Williams Bismarck

Description: First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy wielded tremendous influence throughout American popular culture from art to etiquette. Her fashions too inspired countless imitators, including her boxy day suit and pillbox hat by the American designer Halston. Balenciaga’s design for a “boxy suit” pre-dates Halston’s, but the enduring popularity of the style can be ascribed to the First Lady. The version on view, dating to Balenciaga’s spring 1964 line has princess seams to create the illusion of a slim, elongated body, an effect that would have been enhanced by the shortened, bracelet-length sleeves.

University of Kentucky Betty D Eastin Historical Costume Collection

Department of Retailing and Tourism Management

Gift of the Smithsonian Institution 79.9.9a