Milli: A Celebration of Style is fast approaching and in honour of the upcoming exhibition we sat down with the curator Nolan Bryant. Bryant is a style writer, society columnist at The Globe and Mail, and collector and independent curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion. We’ve had many an opportunity to get to know and love Nolan over the years and we were thrilled to be able to gain some insight as to his inspiration and thoughts behind the exhibition.
Q: What drew you to Milli and taking on the role as curator?
Nolan: I’ve always been aware of Milli Gould and her business, but it wasn’t until I saw the fantastic ensembles and objects that had been collected for the archive, that I felt there was an exhibition to make.
Q: Where did you draw inspiration from when devising Milli: A Celebration of Style?
Nolan: I’ve seen so many fashion and costume exhibitions around the world— everything I do is a combination and culmination of what I’ve been fortunate to see and interact with firsthand. For example, I was in Paris last summer and visited the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, where Mr. Saint Laurent’s former atelier is now open to visitors— it’s truly remarkable, a space almost frozen in time since his retirement in 2002. I longed to translate this concept to Milli: A Celebration of Style, and create a mise-en-scène inside the Art Gallery of Hamilton that embodied the spirit of the Milli atelier, a space always humming with energy that’s rarely seen by the public. In regards to the exhibition design, in the centre of the space there is a massive folding screen, an idea which came, firstly, from the coromandel screens that Milli has in her home and stores, and secondly from a series of portraits that Irving Penn started in 1948, in a “corner” that was made of two studio flats pushed together.
(Yves Saint Laurent former atelier in Musée Yves Saint Laurent)
Q: Are there any pieces in the exhibit that stand out to you?
Nolan: There’s a gold pleated dress by the designer Donald Brooks that was owned and worn by Milli Gould. Milli has always been a forward looking woman—it’s the nature of the fashion business really— but her disregard for nostalgia means that she’s also parted with some wonderful clothes over the years! This diaphanous dress was kept though, and stands as an example of the time in which it was worn, the early 1970s, and also Milli’s personal style. From the AGH collection, I’m thrilled to have abstract works by Canadian artists Jack Bush and Kenneth Lockhead in the Exuberant Style area of the exhibition- these wonderful works are presented alongside splashy evening clothes, mostly from the 1980’s and early 1990’s by designer Peter Keppler.
Q: Do you consider fashion an art form?
Nolan: For me, fashion is a creative expression that spurs emotional reaction— I’m as moved by an interaction with an ensemble by Christóbal Balenciaga or Hubert de Givenchy, as I am when I stand in front of a work by Helen Frankenthaler or Mark Rothko, or a table by Diego Giacometti.
(Helen Frankenthaler in her studio)
Q: What was your favourite part of this process and do you have future plans to curate other fashion exhibitions?
Nolan: My favourite part of the process was getting to know Milli Gould- she’s a remarkable woman ahead of her time, who masterfully and very personally connected beautiful objects with women in Hamilton, and beyond. It’s been an absolute thrill to put fashion together with works from the Art Gallery of Hamilton permanent collection. My favourite exhibitions, fashion or otherwise, tend to be ones that cross pollinate and bring together multiple departments and collections, so I’m interested in exploring this further. I’m always working on ideas for shows and I have folders full of topics, designers and artists who I want to explore in the gallery or museum context.