“Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection” exhibit has opened at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Fashionistas and lovers of fabulous clothing designs will appreciate the central focus of the exhibit, composed of more than 30 gowns donned by the Supremes. The gowns represent a moment in time, and a pivotal piece of American fashion history.
Included in the visual smorgasbord will be incomparable dresses such as the “Primette Pristine,” one of the first gowns purchased by the Supremes in 1961; Mary Wilson’s maternity “Three Crème de Menthe” and the visually impressive “Black Net Mermaid Gown” by Lars Ake Wilhelmsson. Another rare find displayed in the exhibit will be the famous “Black Butterfly” dress designed by Bob Mackie in 1969. This bell-sleeved, floor-length gown features exquisite gold and brown Paisley-print stitching, and hand-sewn pearl and gem trimmings; and is regarded as one of their most notable costumes.
“For me, I think I was born to do this,” said Wilson during a press preview. “And to make it my livelihood, as well as my happiness and joy as a human being. I am one of those people that have always been happy. But the music has given me a real source of why I am happy. It’s one of those things, it’s not about the money, it’s about me as a human being and why I am here. All the roads from singing have led me into so many areas, so I am able to explore myself as a woman, a mother and as a teacher. And, I’m teaching myself, too. I’ve found a way to be able to learn about myself through my music.”
Mark Anthony Neal, an expert in popular culture including music, and professor of Black popular culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University, has been engaged as the guest curator for the exhibit at the museum. “The gowns tell the story of an important era: the Supremes and the society that the Supremes helped to transform,” said Neal. “The Supremes embodied style, class and integrity at a time when those were some of the only attributes that African Americans could legitimately claim in American society. The grace and confidence that the Supremes personified would inspire a nation and continue to serve as a shining example of modern, Black womanhood — American womanhood.”
In addition to the group’s stunning gowns, “Come See About Me” will feature rarely seen video footage, gold records and album covers, historic photographs, and contemporary magazine and news articles. Wilson’s determined journey toward self-actualization — a story of universal relevance for women of all ages and backgrounds — will be a key theme of the presentation as well.
“The Supremes’ legacy changed the face of music and we are thrilled to host Mary Wilson’s exhibit, including the many costumes she has preserved over the years,” said the museum’s interim president and CEO Patricia Wilson Aden. “We are expecting a very diverse group of visitors, especially an intergenerational audience, since the mention of The Supremes resonates with so many different people for a wide range of exciting reasons.”
While selected gowns have been displayed in other venues, the local exhibit delves deeper than the rhinestones and colorful plumage. “We saw this as an opportunity to tell an important American story that allows us to celebrate perseverance, civil rights and women’s empowerment to a broad and expanded audience. We are hopeful that we will appeal to many new visitors with this universal story,” said Claire Lomax, chairperson of the museum’s board of directors. “A key goal of the exhibit — to appeal to our core audience while expanding the appeal of our offerings to a broad and diverse audience — is alignment with the museum’s strategic plan goals.”
“Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Legacy Collection” will exhibit at the African American Museum in Philadelphia from Jan. 25 to June 30. For more information about the exhibit, visit aampmuseum.org.