Good art exhibits make you feel like anything is possible. Or, more accurately, that anything could have been possible.
“I think we were born in the wrong era,” my best friend leaned over and muffled through double masks on a recent Wednesday afternoon at the Denver Art Museum’s current show, “Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck.”
I glanced around, re-adjusted my own double mask situation that was pulling on my ears, making me regret hoop earrings, and sighed to myself.
I was ogling an elegant black Yves Saint Laurent dress worn by Parisian journalist, philanthropist and influencer Véronique Peck, who was married to Hollywood actor Gregory Peck for more than four decades. It’s one of 100 ensembles from 15 different couturiers featured in the show, some of which will become permanent to the DAM as part of a gift from the couple’s daughter Cecila Peck Voll.
Through the lens of the exhibit, on display until July 18, Véronique can be described as a liaison between the haute couture fashion houses of Europe, like Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Pucci, and Hollywood, where her and her husband were A-list celebrities and showstoppers at every event they attended. Her style was elegant but never too much.
“When my parents entered a room, you couldn’t take your eyes off them,” said Cecilia Peck Voll in an interview with the exhibit’s curators. “They made style look effortless. I think their secret was that they were having fun. They were in love, and you could feel it. They inspired each other and made each other laugh. His eyes were always on her. Their style was a reflection of their love.”
Véronique, born in Paris in 1932, met her husband in Italy while he was filming Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn. She was a young reporter for the French daily newspaper France Soir tasked with interviewing the famous actor for an article. The two were married three years later and Véronique moved to Hollywood.
Together the two were influential. Gregory was an advocate for social justice issues and against nuclear proliferation and together they raised millions for charity. There was also, of course, their iconic style that continuously guided mainstream fashion decade after decade.
“Véronique was, and remains, an exemplary figure of fashion with an emblematic wardrobe,” said DAM curator Florence Müller, who worked with Cecila Peck Voll to cull the pieces from hundreds that Véronique amassed over her lifetime. “Fashion is a big component of our contemporary culture and how we see the world. ‘Paris to Hollywood’ is a testament to the history of fashion and to Véronique’s ability to stay on the pulse of fashion and new trends.”
The exhibit is divided into nine sections, each one highlighting a separate theme and era, like the futuristic style of designer André Courrèges, whose designs Véronique introduced to the U.S. in the 60s. The dresses on display show off the fashion ambassador’s sixth sense for pieces and styles that are still recognized today as closet staples of decades past.
The exhibit hits the DAM at a peculiar time in the fashion industry: a global pandemic where the biggest fashion events have been canceled. Red carpet events are few and far between and fashion week runways have become virtual or very small. Even for those of us who only live in the fashion world through magazines and designs replicated by department stores the pandemic has stepped on a sense of personal style. Is a trend really a trend if it only sees the light of day through an Instagram post or TikTok video?
Despite having an eye for the next big silhouette or design, “Paris to Hollywood” shows off Véronique’s attachment to timelessness. The gowns she wore herself weren’t eye catching because they were of a particular decade but because they could have been good in any decade. They’re a reminder that even though trends still seem to turn during this year of little public interaction (middle parts and wide-legged pants, anyone?), some pieces will always be go-tos.
Everything about “Paris to Hollywood” seems so far away in 2021: the Peck’s quixotic relationship and how they were able to influence the world around them while making room for advocacy. It’s hard to say whether the exhibit would be quite so romantic if we didn’t know a life in lockdown.
It’s an escape to a world that was possible at one time (and maybe will be again someday, if you’re the hopeful type).
If you go:
“Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck” is on display until July 18. General admission tickets are timed entry. Purchase at www.denverartmuseum.org. Tickets are $10 for adult Colorado residents, $13 for non-residents. Children 18 and younger are free.