A Passion for Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection at The Met

Words Mary Gregory  Photography Adel Gorgy

Sandy Schreier was an avid hunter-gatherer, and fashion was her passion. One of the rare collectors of couture clothing for its own sake, Schreier salvaged dresses, hats, and more from auctions, estate sales, and even thrift shops. She never sought to wear any of her finds; rather she treated them as works of art. Now, some 80 of the 165 promised gifts from her massive trove of 20th century garments are on display at the Metropolitan Museum’s “In Pursuit of Fashion.”

An evening dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga from the Met’s “In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” 
Gowns inspired by Hollywood’s Golden Age at The Met’s Costume Institute show

Schreier grew up in the world of fashion. In the 1930s and ’40s, her father was a furrier at Russeks, an upscale store in Detroit, and she’d often visit him at work. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar kept her occupied as she watched Michigan’s chic set try on the newest styles. Those glimpses and her love of Hollywood glamour fueled her interest. When, as a girl, she’d visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, it wasn’t the titles of the nobles and aristocrats whose portraits hung on the walls that drew her eye, but their magnificent gowns and rich textiles. While it was never difficult for her to see fashion as art, it has taken major museums decades to catch up to her way of thinking.

Schreier, who has written books, taught and lectured about the history and social implications of fashion, started her collection early with gifts from some of the clients at her father’s store. It grew beyond expectations. Because she wasn’t looking for things to wear, she purchased garments in all sizes and from all eras. The one condition was that they had to be exceptional. And they are. 

Evening gowns from the Sandy Schreier collection

“I always saw myself as a fashion savior,” says Schreier. “My passion for fashion as an art form drove me to search for the most innovative, creative, and breathtaking objects by well-known and lesser-known talents.”

A group with evening capes by Maria Monaci Gallenga (Italian, 1880–1944), ca. 1925

In the exhibition, Fortuny pleated gowns are displayed near fashion-forward visions from Paul Poiret. Both were radical in the early 1900s, altering the shape of women’s wear at a time women were changing their own profiles. One of the delights of the exhibition is the chance to see creations from designers who haven’t become iconic. Maria Monaci Gallenga, Boué Soeurs, Madeleine & Madeleine, Maison Margaine-Lacroix, and Ana de Pombo hold up just fine amidst the Balenciagas, Chanels, and Diors. 

Gallery View, L’Esprit Nouveau The Interwar Era
A gown topped by a cheeky Stephen Jones headpiece 

Meticulous pleating, swags of chiffon, alluring silhouettes, soft and bright colors, and shimmering surfaces draw lots of sighs from the crowds packing the Met’s The Costume Institute. Whimsical headwear on the mannequins from Stephen Jones, the avant-garde milliner whose creations have crowned Met Costume shows before, are an added treat. 

An evening jacket with embroidered and beaded Egyptian motifs
Christian Francis Roth’s “Breakfast” suit, spring/summer 1990, Franco Moschino’s “Art Is Love” dress, spring/summer 1993, a Warhol-inspired paper dress are highlights among fashions from the 1960s

With dresses evoking the flapper era and Hollywood’s Golden Age, mod styles mimicking Mondrian and Warhol from the ’60s, a suit that visually quotes fried eggs (worth the trip just to see), body skimming gold lamé halter dresses from the disco days of Studio 54, and pieces like a sculptural butterfly hat that defy classification but definitely fall in to the category of art, the Schreier collection is unique and glorious. It will be on view till mid-May, at which point these and dozens of other pieces become part of the permanent collection, a gift from the fashion maven for the museum’s 150th anniversary. 

Phillip Treacy’s 2004 “butterfly hat

Top: A Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe dress from the Spring Summer 1984 collection along with an ensemble by Patrick Kelly, and others at the Met’s 

In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection
The Costume Institute at The Met, 1000 Fifth Avenue
Through May 17, 2020

About Mary Gregory (35 Articles)
Mary Gregory is an award-winning art critic and journalist whose work with museums, galleries, and auction houses led her to writing about art for publications like Newsday, Long Island Pulse, Afterimage, Art Week, Our Town, and the Chelsea News. A member of the International Association of Art Critics, she has degrees in both English and art history, and her fiction has been anthologized by the Georgia Museum of Art. ------------------Adel Gorgy's photojournalist work, which focuses specifically on art news and exhibitions, has been widely published in New York area magazines, newspapers and journals both online and in print. His fine art photography has been seen around the world in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries.