Sandy Schreier’s couture collection gets a high-profile exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, PhotoS © Nicholas Alan Cope
Sandy Schreier goes way beyond thinking clothes can make the woman. For her, they make a personal collection — reaching almost 15,000 items and counting. The latest acquisition, received in November, continues more than a half-century fascination with
Schreier, a lifelong Michigan resident, is about to share a selection of her favorite upscale garments with visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) in New York City, where singular items from her holdings intermittently have been shown to enhance various themes.
“In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” will be on view Nov. 27-May 17 to showcase about 80 of 165 promised gifts to the Met in keeping with its Collections Initiative celebrating the museum’s 150th anniversary. Famed designers represented include Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Valentina.
“The only people who ever offered me collecting encouragement, besides my husband, were Met staff members,” says Schreier, who began visiting the museum as a teenager and is thrilled about the display and the namesake catalog that accompanies it. “They gave me validation that I was doing something really wonderful.
“It didn’t dawn on me how wonderful it was until my husband, Sherwin, and I took our first trip to London in the 1970s and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There was an exhibit, ‘Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton,’ that changed my life forever.
“There were hundreds of pieces done by the great designers of the world, and there were pieces by the same designers I had. That’s when it dawned on me that these weren’t just pretty dresses. This was a serious collection.”
Schreier’s venture into acquiring high-power fashions began in childhood as she watched her father, Edward Miller, at Russeks, a local branch of the New York store that featured designer wear. With her dad as a manager, she got to meet well-dressed women in the area, and they began gifting her what they had worn for special occasions.
“When I was old enough to drive, I went to Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills for any kind of dignified [home-based] sale,” Schreier recalls. “I let it be known to everybody that I was interested in clothes.
“What really threw me over the top was starting to make television appearances. People called me from all over the world. Print publicity also helped a lot.”
In her search for high-power outfits, Schreier early on was introduced to designers as she did some modeling. Isaac Mizrahi, recently in Michigan to speak for Hadassah and who has visited her home in the past, has expressed plans to attend opening events, calling attention to exhibit items.
A Mizrahi painting of Schreier appears in the exhibit catalog, which profiles the collector, who developed two books linked to the history of her holdings: Hollywood Dressed & Undressed: A Century of Cinema Style (1998) and Hollywood Gets Married (2002).
Schreier, the mother of four and grandmother of seven who is a longtime volunteer in the library at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, did not choose the pieces in The Met exhibit, but she readily remembers experiences associated with many of them.
“This exhibit is not totally reflective of my entire collection,” explains Schreier, who, over time, hosted Met representatives visiting Michigan to make their selections. “These are the pieces that helped make the museum’s collection more complete.
“The piece everybody likes talking about the most is the Twiggy dress. Richard Avedon took a famous picture of Twiggy (a 1960s model and actress) in this dress, designed by Roberto Rojas.
“Shortly after my husband passed away in 2014, I got a call from Roberto. I had never talked to him before, but he wanted to thank me for giving him credit. We got together in Florida and became friends.”
The exhibited ensemble by Yves Saint Laurent is important to Schreier because it recalls the time she was an accessories designer working with him. She found the outfit when asked to appraise the couture estate of Elizabeth Parke Firestone.
Schreier owns several dresses by Adrian Greenberg, who went by Adrian as a Hollywood costumer associated with The Wizard of Oz, among many other film favorites. Schreier interviewed his widow, actress Janet Gaynor, about collecting some of Adrian’s most famous pieces, which are in the exhibit and part of her Met donation.
“Sandy Schreier’s gift — one of the largest in recent Costume Institute history — will dramatically enrich the museum’s holdings of 20th-century fashion,” says Max Hollein, Met director. “We are thrilled and honored to receive these important treasures, and we look forward to presenting an exhibition that celebrates the exceptional artistry of the objects and reflects on the origins and impact of this tremendous collection.”
Schreier, who has never worn any item in her collection because she considers each artistically innovative and to be preserved, is busy deciding what she will wear to exhibit events. She also is working on her memoir, which will be released in 2020.
“My life has been a fantasy, especially meeting all the famous people in the creative arts who come to see my collection,” she says. “The item that came in November is a chocolate-colored couture gown made by Moschino many years ago. I have been looking for that dress for a long time. I’m a chocoholic. How could I resist it?”
“In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection” will be on view Nov. 27-May 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. $12-$25. The catalog, with the same title as the exhibit and filled with pictures, can be found at the Met website for $50. (212) 535-7710. metmuseum.org/InPursuitofFashion.