by Caitlin Collins
Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum (EMP) has opened Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection, showcasing Wilson’s gowns accrued throughout her years as a Supreme. Tracing the group’s glamourous progression from humble thrift store beginnings to their later days (accounting for the presence of floor-length maternity gowns), it is a full-blown celebration of sequins, beads and bold prints.
From the beginning, the Supremes took extra care with their style. Though they came from the housing projects of Detroit, they managed to keep fashion a priority. As Wilson explained the morning EMP opened her collection, “we came to Motown with cheap pearls from Woolworth’s, you know, $5 pearls–we were wearing pearls when we were 17, 18 years old, so we kind of wanted to be glamorous.”
The Supremes achieved twelve Billboard number 1 hit singles throughout their career*. “The music was great,” said Wilson, “but I think the fashion combined with the two of them to make them really powerful.” The practice of pairing glamour with music created what Wilson called their “own niche within the rock and roll era,” and though it is commonplace for a musician today to have a signature look, for the Supremes it was a movement.
The exhibit contains a number of marvelous gowns, glittering and petite, created by Hollywood’s best designers such as Bob Mackie, but perhaps most impressive is a set of pale pink gowns that the Supremes wore for the Command Performance in 1968 for England’s royal family. Embroidered with rhinestones and pearls, they weigh in at 35 pounds each, but these gowns signaled an important point in the group’s career. “Being black girls from the projects and poor and all that stuff and then doing command performances for the Queen Mother…was such a phenomenal experience,” remembers Wilson.
Wilson’s collection of gowns is not simply a grand showcasing of vintage elegance; it documents the emergence of fashion into the musical world, honors some of the first African American women musicians that could be found on television, and demonstrates the importance and influence that fashion can possess. The exhibit will be on display at Seattle’s Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum until September 6th, everyday from 10am until 6pm. Tickets are $12-15.
Photos by Shalonne Foster
In the beginning, the Supremes had to “fake it” with second-hand store finds. Get your glamour on a budget with the Supreme’s staples–straight from the mouth of Mary Wilson: “pearls were the thing, and little white gloves, and basically a nice dress. Mascara, lipstick and–we used to call it rouge.”
* Bronson, Fred. The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. 5th ed. New York: Billboard Books, 2003. Print.