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Review: costuming meets haute couture in A Queen Within 

New Orleans Museum of Art's fashion exhibit runs through May 28

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New Orleans long has been a North American epicenter for costuming, but it never has been much of a showcase for haute couture. So when the New Orleans Museum of Art announced it was staging an artsy "fashion" exhibit, I was skeptical. But a blurb by NOMA decorative arts curator Mel Buchanan was intriguing: "This exhibition shows beauty, certainly, but also pain, humor, power and weakness." It also mentioned that it was divided into themes based on Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung's notions of female archetypes. All of which sounded a lot like costumes. In fact, this show not only blurs the boundaries between fashion and costumes, it also is an otherworldly environment in its own right. Much of it evokes props from Federico Fellini's old psychedelic films, such as Juliet of the Spirits, reworked into "socially conscious" outfits so outrageous that New Orleans may be the only place on the planet where people could actually get away with wearing them.

  Under the "Mother Earth" theme, a Sarah Burton/Alexander McQueen leafy black Floral Dress with manic multiple belt buckles (pictured, left) looks perfect for a trip to the Rouses on Royal Street on a Saturday evening around Halloween, where it would fit in perfectly. Ditto the albatrosslike Charlie Le Mindu Berlin Syndrome winged headdress (pictured, right). A Vivienne Westwood Chelsea coat features a shoulder line that hangs from atop the wearer's head so it initially resembles a very tall headless female zombie, ideal for women restaurant workers walking home after midnight. The "Explorer" theme includes items like Joanne Petit-Frere's Bishop Braid hair sculpture featuring a nude black model with braided hair woven into an ebony facsimile of an archbishop's hat. The "Magician" series features Iris van Herpen's spectacular Snake dress, black acrylic reptilian coils that envelop the body from the lower jaw to the upper thigh like a writhing mass of pythons. Not everything is quite so Carnivalesque, but overall, the show passes the New Orleans litmus test for relevance. It's engaging, eccentric and conducive to no end of entertaining conversational speculation. Through May 28. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, (504) 658-4100;


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