The Met’s Costume Institute to Showcase Collection of Film Buff Fashion Historian

Met Fashion on Exhibit 2019 - Split -H 2019
Courtesy of the Met

Sandy Schreier has amassed a collection of 15,000 vintage couture pieces, having grown up hooked on ‘20s and ‘30s cinema and befriending Oscar-winning Hollywood costume designers Dorothy Jeakins and Helen Rose.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is preparing to unveil the exhibit “In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” on Nov. 27 as part of The Met’s 150th anniversary, taking place next year. The exhibit (slated to run through May 17, 2020) celebrates Schreier’s dedication to keeping some of the most important pieces of fashion history, which she has never worn, in the finest condition. Schreier will be gifting much of her prestigious collection to the Met, 80 pieces of which have been chosen for this exhibition, including womenswear, accessories and fashion illustrations.

“I’d always been interested in movies and the stars’ wardrobes,” Schreier tells The Hollywood Reporter by phone from Detroit, where she was born and raised. “I wore a copy of the dress Elizabeth Taylor wore in A Place in the Sun to my high school prom.”

It was as a young girl that Schreier developed a passion for fashion, when she spent time at Russeks department store, where her father was a furrier. “Detroit as a fashion capital was before my time. But I did get to see bits and pieces of it through the closets and wardrobes of the famous socialites who would come through the store. My life was going to the movies. It became extremely important to me,” she says.

In the ‘80s, Schreier inadvertently became a commentator on Hollywood fashion. “I was in the right place, at the right time,” she says. “I started talking about film fashion on a local TV station that played old movies once a week. They would send me to Hollywood to meet the costume designers of the time. I told them, ‘I’m a fashion historian, not an expert on costumes in movies,’ and they said, ‘We’re going to make you one!’” 

Schreier says she was lucky to have Oscar-winning Hollywood costume designers Dorothy Jeakins (who worked with John Huston and Cecil B DeMille) and Helen Rose (who designed wedding dresses for Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor and worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) “open their homes and their hearts” to her.

"I used to get asked, 'Sandy, how are you such good friends with the designers?'" says Schreier. "One reason why was because they really questioned me about fashion more than I questioned them about Hollywood costuming!"

Over the years, Schreier has collected anything she considers important to the history of fashion as art, even picking up a Thea Porter caftan that belonged to Taylor at the late star’s estate sale. She has also written two books (Hollywood Dressed & Undressed: A Century of Cinema Style and Hollywood Gets Married) and developed such a reputation for her love of vintage fashion that people started giving her pieces, which she started to collect — not to wear, but to preserve.

“I have Rita Hayworth’s dress from Gilda. I have the purple silk pants and blouse that Yves Saint Laurent created for Claudia Cardinale to wear in The Pink Panther, as well as Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Schiaparelli dress from [1952's] Moulin Rouge. I have the metal-mesh dress Twiggy wore in the famous Richard Avedon photograph. That dress has been in six fine art exhibits, including three times at The Met in New York,” Schreier says.

The Met has had a long-standing relationship with Schreier before she gifted it her collection, and she has lent it pieces for past exhibitions, including "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" in 2012.

Jessica Regan, associate curator at the Met’s Costume Institute, says that the collection the museum will be gifted consists of 165 pieces but, due to space constraints, 80 will be shown. The exhibit will cover 96 years of fashion history — the oldest item on view will be a 1908 illustration of a Paul Poiret ensemble, and the newest will be a 2004 Philip Treacy hat.

“The pieces for this upcoming exhibition were selected by the Costume Institute curators and we, along with one of our conservators, made several visits to Sandy’s collection to determine what pieces would fill in the gaps in our existing collection. We were looking for pieces by designers who we have been collecting for a very long time and who were well represented in Sandy’s collection,” says Regan. 

One of these designers is Adrian Adolph Greenburg (known as Adrian or Gilbert Adrian), the former costume designer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who designed costumes for hundreds of MGM films between 1928 and 1941, including The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

“He created designs that were known for their glamour and drama,” says Regan. “Sandy is a great film fan and has a taste for that kind of glamour and drama in fashion, and that was very much influenced by her love of Hollywood films of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Adrian successfully translated that sense of glamour and drama into fashion.”

Adrian’s film creations won’t be included in the Costume Institute exhibition, but his haute couture will be. The pieces from films Schreier has collected over the years aren’t part of the gift she’s making to the Met, and she isn’t sure what she’ll do with those just yet. She says that she is still processing her “dream come true.”

Schreier (now in her 80s) and her late husband, who were married as teenagers, would often travel to New York. “I would always walk through the Met and wish my things would be there," she says. "This was always a fantasy of mine, from the time I started collecting. I plan to live until I’m 150, so I can make sure the Met takes good care of them!”