Amid the great vintage finds and excellent antiquing to be had in Nashville, the latest style boon to take place in "Music City" was the arrival of a premier couture exhibit last month at the Frist Center of the Visual Arts.
"The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947 - 1957" originally debuted at London's prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in September 2007, and features over 200 exquisite hand-crafted gowns, lingerie, and accessories from the era.
The exhibition's starting point is Christian Dior's "New Look," which established a modern silhouette for post-war women in Paris and quickly became the marker for excellent dressmaking. Other fashion houses such as Balenciaga and Balmain then followed suit. Oddly enough, Dior himself was never one to roll up his sleeves, according to V&A curator Claire Wilcox.
"Dior never touched fabric, never touched models," says Wilcox. "He used to prod them with a stick. He was a draftsman."
Catch the exhibit in Nashville through September 12th - you won't want to miss it. This is its only stop in the U.S.
Frist Center of the Arts, 919 Broadway, (615) 244-3340; FristCenter.org
It wouldn't be a proper trip to Nashville without a few stops at the various stellar vintage shops. Among them is the the highly trafficked Venus and Mars: The Showroom, which is co-owned by supermodel/fledgling musician Karen Elson and costume designer Amy Patterson. Their extensive stash includes menswear (hence "Mars"), lingerie, doll-like exquisite dresses and jumpsuits as well as a plethora of accessories ranging from 1950s hosiery and wide-brimmed floral hats to stacks of bangles and rhinestone-encrusted jewels.
Venus & Mars: The Showroom, 2009 Belmont Road, Tel: (615)915-4846; Venusandmarsvintage.com
Another must-stop destination is Diamond Star Halo, which is owned and curated by former NY Post fashion editor Libby Callaway. Located in Fanny's House of Music, the shop-in-shop vintage emporium includes racks of caftans, dresses, and designer goods culled from Callaway's extensive travels throughout the U.S. and Europe. A long time collector, the Tennessee-native is always on the look out for fresh stock.
Diamond Star Halo, 1101 Holly St., (615) 750-5746; Diamondstarhalo.wordpress.com
Forget Nicole and Keith, the real rock royalty of Nashville is Jack White and (the aforementioned) Karen Elson who gave her debut solo performance at Third Man Records which is owned by her multi-tasking husband.
White had his hand in designing the entire space which features a recording studio, a store filled with everything from vinyl records to White Stripes USBs, a photo studio (replete with a vintage photo booth), a vintage-looking kitchen, a smattering of extreme taxidermy, and White's office (which reads Dr. Jack White, D.D.S. on the door).
Up-and-coming acts are constantly coming to record and the resulting albums are created up the road at United Record Pressing, one of the largest vinyl producers in the world.
On special occasions, such as when Conan O'Brien came to town for Bonnaroo, Third Man Records will host open nights so that local Nashvillians can enjoy a free show.
Third Man Records, 623 7th Avenue South, (615) 891-4393; ThirdManRecords.com
In early 2009, Matt and Carrie Eddmenson - both veterans of the denim-producing business having worked with labels such as Levi's, Lee, Girbaud, Ralph Lauren, Rogan, J Brand and Diesel - converted an old gas station into a bespoke jeans shop. The concept was to feature two different styles for men and women that are intentionally rigid so that the wearer could break them in, with custom tailoring to take place in store.
Earlier this year, while Gwyneth Paltrow was in town filming a movie, she was outfitted by the Eddmensons and soon enough gave them a big shout out on Goop. The resulting popularity surge has resulted in a collaboration with J.Crew (to debut this August) and Paltrow herself helping to create the prototype for their latest offering - a new skinny jean which they ask customers to try on in the store and offer feedback.
Imogene + Willie, 2601 12th Avenue South, (615) 292-5005 ImogeneAndWillie.com
Over in the Green Hills section of Nashville, there are a coterie of cute shops - the best of which (for fashion connoisseurs anyway) would have to be H.Audrey.
Owner Holly Williams, who is not only a purveyor of fashion but also a talented musician and the daughter of local legend Hank Williams, Jr., has curated the store to include of the moment labels such as Rick Owens, Alexander Wang, A.L.C., and Elizabeth and James, among others.
When she's not on the road with her band (or her husband's, ahem the Kings of Leon) you'll find Williams tucked away in the back of the boutique placing orders and taking inventory.
H.Audrey, 4027 Hillsboro Pike, (615) 760-5702; Haudrey.com.
Designer and one-name wonder Manuel is a local legend in Nashville, having dressed the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and all three Hank Williams's (among many others) in his signature rhinestone-laden couture cowboy suits. The Mexican-born designer worked as head tailor for Nudie back in Hollywood in the '60s, establishing relationships with the likes of the Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore) and the Rat Pack.
Pop round to the split store/studio these days, and you're likely to run into the self-proclaimed "Rhinestone Rembrandt" himself, who will most likely regale you with stories about stars of yore.
Manuel Couture, 1922 Broadway, (615) 321-5444; ManuelCouture.com
The designer himself, who is in the studio every day teaching the interns the tricks of the trade.
Fashionistas, set the dial to full blast. UAL has to be the best kept secret this side of the Mason-Dixon. An outlet for luxury retailers such as Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman, UAL carries a mind-blogging array of designer gems at deeply discounted prices. Think Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Milly, and more. A fellow editor discovered a rack of Martin Margiela pants for under $100. It's reason enough to make the trip!
UAL, 2918 West End Avenue, (615) 340-9999; ShopUAL.com
And while we're on the topic of mind-boggling yumminess, one could not help but mention the utter deliciousness that exists at Burger Up. Owner Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, who previously worked for Chaiken in San Francisco and embodies a louche cool girl style, is committed to the idea of community in every essence. All of the food is locally-grown and hormone-free and the long wooden tables were made of salvaged wood from her grandfather's farm.
The fresh atmosphere is only enhanced by the creative and delightfully Southern menu - Yazoo beer-battered cremini mushrooms, fried pickles with ranch dressing, and of course the burgers! The Woodstock, which features Benton Bacon, white Cabot cheese, and Jack Daniels maple ketchup, is stuff of legend.
Burger Up, corner of 12th & Paris Avenue, (615) 279-3767; Burger-Up.com