This will be the first major retrospective exhibition to explore the work and lasting influence of mid-20th century designer Philip Hulitar (1905-1992). In the rapidly-changing world of postwar American couture, Hulitar became known for his distinctively tailored and elegantly decorated cocktail dresses and evening gowns. Launching his label in 1949 after 18 years of success as one of Bergdorf Goodman’s chief designers and head of its women’s dress division, Hulitar quickly earned critical acclaim and a fervent following in New York and Long Island society. “The star of a gifted designer has risen recently on the fashion horizon,” one contemporary journalist stated, shortly after his business opened.
Hulitar’s consistent success in each new runway season throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, including a spectacular showing at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, gave him a discerning audience for his precise interpretations of glamour. He converged an Old World upbringing and sensibility – his father was a Hungarian diplomat and his mother came from Italian nobility – with a thoroughly modernized American one, arriving and building his career in Great Depression New York in his mid-20s. Marrying the charming and beautiful Mary Perry Gerstenberg (of New York and North Shore Long Island) in 1951, Hulitar built a life around his work, extensive travels, and love of art. The Hulitars were also active and extraordinarily generous members of their communities in Palm Beach and Long Island.
The first museum project of its kind to explore Hulitar’s influence and work, Gracefully Chic will utilize loans of the designer’s apparel and dresses from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, and a variety of other public and private sources. The LIM will also publish a catalog to accompany the exhibition. It is only appropriate that the Long Island Museum – home of The Mary & Philip Hulitar Textile Collection – should be the place to mount this important exhibition.