PORTLAND, OR - For nearly 30 years around the turn of the 20th century, May and Anne Shogren created the finest dresses Portland had to offer, exquisite gowns that even a century ago cost upwards of $200.
A special exhibit of 22 couture garments designed by the Shogrens will open on Tuesday, March 24, at the Oregon History Center in Portland. The exhibit is being curated by Cecilia O'Sullivan, an Oregon State University design student, who will have four contemporary designs of her own on display.
The exhibit, called "Artful Apparel: Time-Inspired Fashions," is sponsored by the Oregon Historical Society, with support from the Meyer Memorial Trust.
"Shogren dresses were very expensive and had a level of craftsmanship that was probably higher than anything you could buy at the time in Oregon or Washington," said O'Sullivan, a master's candidate in OSU's College of Home Economics and Education. "They were producing Paris-level fashions for the wealthiest women in Portland society."
From 1889 to 1918, the Shogrens' dressmaking abilities drew clients from all over the Northwest. Their dresses were ornate; most were produced during what fashion experts call "The Opulent Era," O'Sullivan said.
Highlights of the exhibit include: a cream satin brocade cape from 1900; a midnight blue evening dress, 1900; a green slubbed silk coat, 1912; a white graduation gown of embroidered cotton voile, 1913; and a purple velvet dress with lavender chiffon, 1900.
The gowns come from various museums and collections, including the Oregon Historical Society, the Southern Oregon Historical Society, the Museum of Science and Industry in Seattle, the Washington State Historical Society, and private collections.
During their 30-year careers, the Shogrens witnessed and help usher in many changes in fashion, from the demise of the bustle, through the evolution of the "S-curve," to the dawning of the flapper era.
O'Sullivan said the exhibit highlights four elements significant in the Shogren designs: color, embellishment, silhouette (or shape), and fabric. The OSU student's own design - though contemporary - also drawn from those elements.
"Contemporary designers often look to the past for inspiration," O'Sullivan said.
O'Sullivan's designs include a seafoam green and bronze two-piece evening gown with matching velvet coat, a gold and white striped wedding dress, a blue pantsuit, and a red plaid strapless evening gown.
"One reason that I got involved with curating the Shogren exhibit is that I would love to do just what they were doing," O'Sullivan said. "I'd like to be a couture-level dressmaker, creating those same Paris-level dresses."
The exhibit will continue through Nov. 29 at the Oregon History Center, 1200 S.W. Park Ave. in Portland. Tickets are priced at $6 for adults, $3 for students and $1.50 for children ages six through 12.