Local fashion collector has show at Metropolitan Museum

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

When you come down to it, relatively few Detroiters have ever had a major show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But Sandy Schreier has. "In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection," up at the Met through May 17, showcases 80 of the 165 couture items, from gowns to accessories, that the Oakland County resident and fashion-as-art expert has donated to the museum's Costume Institute -- just a fraction of the 15,000 artifacts she keeps in storage in an unnamed location. 

Fashion collector Sandy Schreier at the Paris Couture week earlier this year with Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in-chief.

The Detroit News caught up with Schreier two weeks after her show opened to talk old clothes, Anna Dodge and the metal-mesh dress Twiggy wore for photographer Richard Avedon.

When did you get interested in fashion?

Sandy Schreier: "My father ran the fur department at Russeks Department Store when I was a little girl. His employees spoiled me rotten, calling me 'little Shirley Temple.' And instead of looking at books like 'Mother Goose,' I'd look at Vogue and Bazaar. I couldn't read, but I was mesmerized."

How did you get into collecting?

"Daddy's clientele, the wives of the auto titans, thought this was so unique and adorable, they started sending me gifts of their couture -- something only worn once, because you never wore anything twice in those days. At first my parents thought they'd serve as Halloween costumes, but I'd throw temper tantrums and insist nobody touch them."

So you never wore the gowns?

"Never. I don't know where I got that from -- it was something in my DNA. I said, 'They're beautiful. Don't touch them.'

"When I was about 7, I remember a limousine pulling up in front of my father's store and the chauffeur walking in with a package labeled, 'For Sandy Miller.' One of Daddy's clients had sent me a gown."

Is the Met show your first museum exhibition?

"No. I had an incredible exhibition at the DIA in 1992 when Sam Sachs was director, 'Chic to Chic: 100 Years of Fashion Accessories from the Collection of Sandy Schreier.' I was on the front page of the Detroit papers for days on end."

It must be thrilling to have a show at the Met. 

"It's validation that I accomplished what I set out to do. When I was young, they called me the little girl with the old clothes. I was laughed at by everybody. My parents used to say we were all going to die of old-clothes disease."

Sandy Schreier at the Metropolitan Museum Tuesday.

Has it all been worthwhile?

"People ask what the collection has done for me, and it's done two important things: It's given me entree into the closets of the most important and creative talents of the 20th and 21st centuries, and entree into their lives. Plus, it's given me a fantasy career any little girl would love -- appearing on stage, TV, doing speaking engagements, and writing articles and books."

What are your books?

"They're 'Hollywood Dressed & Undressed: A Century of Cinema Style' and 'Hollywood Gets Married.' And I'm working on my memoir, 'Desperately Seeking Fashion,' which hopefully will come out next year." 

So is most of your collection drawn from Hollywood?

"No. I write about Hollywood costumes, but I don't collect them -- though I do have all the St. Laurent costumes from 'The Pink Panther.'"

What are some of the coolest outfits you own?

"One is Anna Dodge's Egyptian-revival dress. It's the first thing you see as you come into the Met's Anna Wintour Galleries. Another is the metal-mesh dress Twiggy wore in the famous Richard Avedon photo. Both the photo and dress, by the way, are in the show."

An Adrian gown from the 1940s that actor Eddie Albert bought for his wife, in the exhibition "In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection" at New York's Metropolitan Museum.

You were also on local TV, weren't you?

Yes - that's what made me a star, appearing on 'Bill Kennedy at the Movies' at 1 p.m. People saw me there, and soon I started producing spots for NBC News, and from there I went on AMC. Sometimes a producer on Channel 7 would call whenever a guest didn't show up and ask, 'Can you fly to Chicago to appear on TV?'"

So how in the world did you get the show at the Met?

"I'm the major collector of fashion-as-art in the world, and I've been working with all the museums since the early 1970s, and loaning to fine arts museums all over the world -- especially the Met."

What do you think of the show?"

"I'm too close to it to comment on what I think. But the Met went to enormous expense -- they gave me the designers and photographers I wanted. And I've heard some days it's so crowded you can't get in. But then, people can relate better to a dress than a Michelangelo. That's just a fact. We all wear clothes."

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

'In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection'

Through May 17

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York 

(212) 535-7710