If there's a weak spot in the presentation, it's in the grouping that touches on the early notions of streamlining, displaying a collection of foundation undergarments from the 1930s, including Lastex bras and girdles for women (Lastex was the trademarked name of a then new kind of yarn that wound rayon, nylon and silk around a rubber core and allowed the shift away from rigid corsets) and Und O Gird men's boxers (proving that despite the recent hype, men's shapewear is hardly a new phenomenon). The intention is to illustrate how the early notion of smoothing and streamlining was manifested in the use of new fabrics, but (and this is a testament to the success of the rest of the pairings in the exhibit) there seemed little to connect them to the 1937 Cord 812 Convertible Coupe with which they were displayed.
But it does set the groundwork for the remainder of the exhibit, which begins to fire on all cylinders when it starts to delve into the fascination with the notion of streamlining and simplicity that emerged in the 1930s, illustrated not only by the clothes and the cars but also by a collection of vintage Vogue magazine covers.
Two vehicles in the collection — and the clothes clustered around them — make the strongest connection between the coachbuilders and couturiers of the mid-1930s.
The first is a 1934 La Salle Series 350 Convertible Coupe designed by the legendary Harley Earl with round hood vents, a two-tier "biplane" bumper and a tall, slender front grille. It's impossible not to see the same aesthetic at work in the 1930-31 silk chiffon Paquin evening coat with tiered, fur-trimmed sleeves and the 1939 printed silk Hattie Carnegie dress with circular cutouts.
The second is the last in the exhibit, a 1938 Delahaye 135M Roadster by Figoni et Falaschi, a black, gleaming body swept and smoothed like a piece of art work — or the feminine form itself — with enclosed wheels and headlights integrated into the fenders, and a fold-down split windshield, and a minimalist red stripe ribboning along the body (apparently only 10 such cars were ever built, and only three are known to survive; this one was found under an olive tree in the Algerian mountains in 1992). Standing next to the Delahaye is an equally simple and elegant Jeanne Lanvin day ensemble from 1937, consisting of a black wool dress, dickey, belt, cape, hat and gloves, also with the most minimal of ornamentation: four gold buttons down the front, and a single yellow band on the hat.
It's hard to leave the "Automotivated" exhibit without wondering whether there's any invention of the modern era that's shaped — and reflected — the look of our wardrobes as much as the car did in its first four decades. Or perhaps our a la carte, always on, speed-of-light existence has foreclosed the possibility that anything will ever capture our attention as completely, dooming us instead to endless mini-cycles of "Free Lindsay" T-shirts, iPad-pocket jackets and fast-fashion collaborations.
Will anything, a century from now, resonate in fashion the way the car did last century?
"It's hard to think of something that's had as important an effect on our lives today as the Internet," said Sewell, "and we know it's something that fashion designers have really taken into account. But will the Internet end up having the same kind of profound effect as the automobile? We won't really know that until we have the benefit of hindsight."
Sounds like the answer will have to wait until the "World Wide Wardrobe" exhibit circa 2110, which will probably be available streamed as a holograph to the dashboard viewing pod of a run-of-the-mill flying car.