I recently sat down with Florence Müller, Textile and Fashion Curator at the Denver Art Museum. Müller has an impressive background. She is quite literally a world-renowned fashion and art historian. Take a quick peek at this article and you’ll see what I mean. So, not only did I feel incredibly privileged when she accepted my request for an interview, but I really feel that Denver is incredibly lucky to have her at the DAM. She was in charge of the fashion museum called UFAC – inside the Musée des Arts Décoratifs/Louvre, and has contributed to more than one hundred exhibitions worldwide, including the 2012 exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent : The Retrospective.
Müller has been with the museum for a little over a year now and her current exhibit is on display until the end of May 2017. It’s a celebration of select Japanese designers in the 1980s and the 1990s.
So, why did I reach out to her?
Well, aside from being a regular patron at the museum and art lover, I wanted to pick her brain on the menswear scene here in Denver. Having relocated from France, and being French, I figured she could provide a unique perspective on us Denverites.
I told her that I can imagine that one of the many culture shocks was seeing how much more casual we dress in Denver. I was curious in what ways she had recognized men dressing down. Müller said that in terms of costume, she has noticed two types of men’s attitudes.
Firstly, that there are the hipsters and that they are bringing a more international flair to the area. This makes sense since there are so many new people living here and they are coming from all over. They are bringing their styles and attitudes with them. Müller told me about the young guys she regularly sees in LoDo and RiNo who have a knack for finding creative things in the consignment stores. In this regard, she said that Denver reminded her of what she sees in LA or San Francisco. And that the young guys are oftentimes being more creative with their style than the girls!
Secondly, there’s a men’s style that Müller has seen regularly at DAM events. She explained that on a number of occasions, she sees men dressed in dark tailored suits paired with Western accessories like cowboy boots and even the very western addition, the bolo tie. The latter really surprised me because personally, I very seldom run across the bolo tie. It has always felt like something more of an Arizona or maybe a New Mexico look, not Colorado.
It was this juxtaposition of the traditional and elegant being paired with something noticeably frontier in attitude. Think: A sleek tailored tuxedo or dark suit and dressy cowboy boots. This, Müller explained to me, was very much a Denver style, a touch of tradition that she finds so unique to the area. “It’s very charming and very beautiful. To mix [a western accessory] with something that is very well cut. It’s so chic, so elegant. It’s attractive because it’s specific.”.
It’s difficult to talk about the American frontier and Manifest Destiny without some talk of the Old World. Müller said that a lot of Europeans are inspired by the American frontier and our western attitudes. Outside of menswear and style, this really resonated with me. Throughout my own travels, when I have conversed with Europeans, or even Canadians, they are often very fascinated with the American interior – the Grand Canyon, cowboys, Native Americans, etc. The concept of wide open space and with it, the simple act of hoping in a car and taking a road trip throughout the open country.
And so I understand why Müller was able to pick up on the cowboy boots and the bolo neck ties, but I was curious about something else now. I asked her, within the context of menswear, what time period in American history was her favorite? She answered with the 1950s and the 1960s, that mid-century America was unequivocally the most fascinating period in the US for men’s attire. It was the architecture and the lifestyle that she found so appealing.
“The American cars, and everything really, was so full of style. It was a time that was a symbol of the new world – a world that was rebuilding with a lot of hope for the future.”
Müller reminded me that there were garments for every situation, for every moment. “It was still a world with rules in terms of how the social life was happening. There was the suit for the office, the suit for dinner, the suit for the opera house, and so on. Specifically, there were seersucker jackets and cotton jackets with very pale blue or pale pink tones worn with polo shirts and trousers with sneakers.” It was this prevailing idea that some clothes were just specific to the weekend. What I found interesting was that there had not been a mentality like this in France. That this mid-century attitude towards menswear was very unique to America. “It was a cool attitude,” Müller said.
Aside from menswear, I wanted to know what period of textile and fashion history she found the most interesting, be it in the United States or elsewhere. “I very much like the end of the eighteenth century,” she told me. “This moment of change after the French Revolution…The fashion had to be light and the young woman wanted to be dressed in cotton and linen.” She went on to explain that this period was really inspired by the classical Roman and Greek periods. “I like the moment of changes, the body being liberated and seen, not hidden by hoops or other things.”
Once again, here’s an example of nostalgia really influencing fashion and style. Today, we are returning to our mid-century design roots in many ways. And even in the eighteenth century, the French were looking to the ancient Greeks for their own design inspiration.
As my time with Müller started to wind down, she gave me some insight into the fashion community. That those in fashion and style always seem to be waiting for something new to happen, for “some new way of looking at the body and expressing it.” I think this makes a lot of sense. Like so many things in life, it’s the inflection points that are the most interesting.
But what lingered with me after our call was a yearning to go out and purchase a sharp looking pair of cowboy boots that I could wear with my favorite peaked lapel suit – the accented words of a French fashion curator in the back of my mind, “it’s a look that is so chic, so elegant!”
By Ryan Wagner
A special thank you to Florence Müller for taking the time to speak with BE, such a great honor!
For more information on Müller and her work:
See this Denver Art Museum press release
Where is her work now? You’ll find Müller’s work housed in the Textile Art Gallery on level six of the museum’s North Building.