In 1997 Arnold Scaasi donated 56 garments to the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection. This was a perfect opportunity to feature a retrospective exhibition of his work which in 1998 became the exhibition, The Joy of Dressing Up.. We also held a fundraiser dinner with him as guest of honor. Scaasi and curator Gayle Strege chose the garments featured in the exhibition together, which included a visit to him and his partner of many years, Parker Ladd, in their town home in Manhattan the summer before the exhibition. The dining room was painted red. A few months ago, Arnold Scaasi passed away on August 4th in New York, and we thought it fitting to celebrate his life and sense of color and opulence during this festive season.
Red was Arnold Scaasi’s favorite color and he had several examples in his collections over the years. We are featuring two of my favorites in the collection. Both were in the exhibition, and the evening gown was also featured in his first book, A Cut Above. The short red lace cocktail dress is from the Summer 1987 season and you can clearly see the overly large shoulder pads of the period. The elongated torso tops a tiered skirt of 11 alternating layers of ruffled lace with sequins and stiff red net.
The strapless evening gown is from the Fall 1992 collection. It is a matelassé fabric with a shiny lurex yarn woven into the floral pattern. The dress itself is narrow, but has a voluminous bustle attached to the rear, reminiscent of some gowns from the 1950s when Scaasi first came on the fashion scene.
The green evening gown of gathered silk taffeta with puffs at the sleeves and neckline, hip and flared hem was in the exhibition and also featured in A Cut Above. It was part of the Fall 1988 collection.
The green corded lace dress is a complement to the short red lace dress. It too has long sleeves but has an off-the-shoulder V neckline and a longer flared trumpet skirt.
Like the strapless red gown, it was from the Fall 1992 season. One wonders if perhaps Scaasi might have had Christmas on his mind in putting these two together in the same collection.
The Scaasi dresses featured in this post were chosen due to their red and green color which have traditionally been associated with the Christmas season, but just how long have red and green been the “official” colors of Christmas? Turns out, it may be longer than one originally supposes. Long before Christmas began to be celebrated on December 25, various other cultures, such as the Celts, celebrated the winter solstice by decorating hearths and homes with evergreen branches. Evergreens do not die during the winter thus symbolizing the eternal aspect of the divine as well as the approaching longer days and return of spring. Several groups celebrated this return of sun, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the Persian celebration of their sun god, Mithras.
With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe some of these earlier traditions were brought into the new Christian celebrations. For example, during the 1300’s the Feast Day of Adam and Eve was celebrated on December 24 with churches putting on productions of “Paradise Plays.” These plays depicted the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden, but also anticipated humankind’s ultimate redemption with the birth of the Redeemer. The play needed an apple to be picked from a tree, of course, and as no ripe apple trees could be found during winter, an apple was hung from a pine tree, which was still green. (Sounds like hanging red ball ornaments on Christmas trees today.)
This, along with the popularity of holly as an evergreen decoration which has red berries, led to the association of the color red along green with the Christmas holiday. So as you dress up in your cheeriest ensembles this holiday season just remember, that red and green ensemble you’re wearing is a festive nod to fall of humankind from Paradise–and hope for redemption.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!