Earlier this month, Dior's new creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri managed to take Calabasas and imbue it with Parisian style in the house's cruise 2018 collection, thanks in large part to another unexpected inspiration: the American Modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who caught Chiuri's eye. O’Keeffe, in fact, was an underappreciated style icon who's at the center of “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern,” an exhibition up at the Brooklyn Museum through July.
The exhibition emphasizes that O’Keeffe was also an accomplished seamstress in her own right, with a selection of the dainty embroidered blouses and silk bolero jackets the artist made for herself. But certainly not everything O’Keeffe’s wore—and with great flair—was homemade. From the moment she began teaching at a small-town college in northern Texas in 1916, O'Keeffe immediately drew attention (and gossip) for her combinations of loose black dresses and flat shoes, a look that was out-there for a turn-of-the-century woman. It was that same year that her charcoal abstractions caught the attention of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who mounted a show of her work, and, later, her first museum exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927. This was after he’d convinced her to move to New York and marry him, of course.
Stieglitz managed to make 330 photos of O'Keefe from 1917 to ‘37, in a series that he called an ongoing portrait, which began with a nude, waiflike O’Keeffe draped in a silky kimono. In the decades to come, she’d go on to amass more kimonos, some on her travels to Asia. (She also owned a suit made by Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original salon that she bought in the ‘50s in his native Spain, which she wore so often she had to repair it herself.)
In addition to Stieglitz, other famous photographers found a stylish, alluring muse in O’Keeffe. After she decamped from New York to New Mexico in the '40s, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, and Bruce Weber were just some of those who trekked out to capture O’Keeffe in her perfectly curated, animal bone-adorned homes; Ansel Adams, another frequent visitor, also ended up taking O’Keeffe on a hiking trip through Yosemite National Park. Even Calvin Klein made it to her ranch, sprawling comfortably across her couches and mantelpiece for a special newspaper insert.
No one, of course, was more at home than O’Keeffe, who was a natural model, whether in her signature baggy ensembles, the knit skull caps and scarves she tied around her head, the nearly dozen bespoke suits she had made by men’s tailors, or the denim pairings of blue Levi’s and navy rubber-soled Keds.
As for her accessories, O’Keeffe was rarely seen without a copper pin that Alexander Calder made for her in the ‘30s. Later, when her hair went gray, she had it recreated to better match her cotton-top. The original may have been made by a legend, but the silver version she wore for the next four decades until the end of the life, which came from a craftsman she met on a trip to India in the late ‘50s, cost a mere five dollars.
Meet the Chameleons of the Art World, aka the Humans of Frieze New York: