What do birthdays, a pregnancy, furtive feathers, love at first sight, a good investment and luggage left behind all have in common? Sometimes a dress is more than just a dress. Based on interviews with the featured collectors, this is a “behind the seams” look at some of the striking gowns featured in Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture & Fabulous Fashion, on view at Mint Museum Randolph through February 4, 2018.

Bride-to-be Amanda Weisiger Cornelson envisioned a long-sleeved dress with color for her summer 2016 wedding. Upon seeing her gown on the runway at the Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall 2015 show at the Grand Palais in Paris, it was love at first sight. She visited the designer’s atelier after the show and tried on a few of the other beautiful pieces from the collection, but in the end she only had eyes for the originally-selected gown.

Like her daughter Amanda Cornelson, Lisa Dargan’s Giambattista Valli blue ostrich feather skirt was wedding attire. She wore the dress only once in her home, for a fitting that had to take place downstairs in her entry hall because no other rooms were large enough to accommodate the generous train (the wedding was in Savannah). But she was periodically reminded of the magic of her wedding day as feathers continued to appear, for a more than a year, in unusual places such as in her nightstand and in a suitcase that did not accompany her on her wedding travels.

Myra.jpgWhen Myra Gassman wears her historic Commes des Garcons dress, it always elicits a reaction. So much so that, more than once, people have offered to buy it off of her while she was wearing it. She purchased it from a store in Carmel, California and more than five years after she purchased it, the store owner called and offered to buy it back at double the price she paid. (It’s one of the most important pieces in the exhibition due to its rarity and excellent condition.)

MMR_CCCCFF_2017(67).jpgDeidre Grubb and her family arrived at the airport one hour before their flight to visit friends in St Barths and were told that they were too late to have their bags put on the plane. In order to make their scheduled flight, the Grubbs elected to leave their luggage behind in the trunk of their car and travel with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Upon landing in St. Barths, their hosts offered to lend them some clothes to wear but also took them shopping. Knowing the caliber of St. Barths’ shopping, instead of buying the same sorts of things she already had at home, Deidre opted to take the opportunity to buy something really special, a gown by Italian designer Roberto Cavalli which she wore twice to dinner during the vacation. Since coming to Charlotte, the dress made its black-tie debut worn by her friend Leslie Culbertson, at the Mint’s Coveted Couture Gala.

Holleman.jpgAlex Holleman’s Delpozo coat is the actual, hand-stitched coat that was shown on the runway. However, as shown, the coat didn’t make it into the collection and was destined for storage. Alex loved it so much that she convinced the designer to sell it to her and, despite its significant weight, she wears it as often as possible.

MMR_CCCCFF_2017(47).jpgFor Chandra Johnson, her gowns in the exhibition represent celebrations, as they were all worn to the NASCAR Awards in Las Vegas when she accompanied her husband, seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. However, when Chandra thinks about the white silk Isaac Mizrahi gown, she also remembers feeling very, very ill. In fact, though she was approximately three months pregnant at the time, the Johnsons hadn’t yet divulged the secret. However, protocol required her to sit on the stage, facing the audience at the banquet. So, despite the fact that they had yet to share the news with their closest friends, she had to warn the woman organizing the awards show that she was pregnant in case sickness caused her to make a quick exit from stage.

mattei.jpgAshley Anderson Mattei’s pink and yellow two-piece Giambattista Valli ensemble elicits happy memories of a milestone birthday that took place during the year she and her family lived in Paris. In celebration of her 40th birthday, her husband, Scott, teamed up with Laura Vinroot Poole to take Ashley to her very first fashion show: a couture Giambattista Valli fashion show in Paris. Part of the gift was that, in addition to attending the show, she could choose a gown. Though shown with a slightly different profile on the runway, due to the nature of couture, she was able to request some changes to customize the shape of the gown’s skirt to make it feel more “her” when she wears it with the beautiful pink beaded top.

Poole.jpgLaura Vinroot Poole first saw her silk taffeta cocktail dress when she hosted Giambattista Valli’s first-ever couture collection show in the United States at the Duke Mansion. Though the pajama-influenced dress was shown in crisp, white taffeta, she had it made in in one of her favorite color combinations, pale pink with cherry red piping. Couture can be customized, up to a point, as the designer has to sign off on the changes to the piece since his or her name will be on it and Vinroot Poole surmises that Giambattista must have agreed that the color combination was as dreamy as she thought it would be.

putney.jpgDr. Kimberly Blanding Putney had no particular event in mind when she saw her Missoni gown at Nordstrom but she felt it was a must-purchase. Initially worn for a music and art collaboration event, the fun, colorful pattern makes her smile. For her, wearing it is effortless due to the feel of the fabric, its slightly transparent nature, and the beauty of its craftsmanship.

tarwater.jpgWhen asked by her husband to name something she would want for her birthday if she could have anything, Ann Rosemund Tarwater replied, “a Carolina Herrera dress.” Though it gave him a moment’s pause, he made her wish come true and on their next trip to New York City, they spent the afternoon trying on her beautiful pieces. With this gown she feels she has been gifted the look of elegance, femininity, and classic beauty.

MMR_CCCCFF_2017(4).jpgNFL Quarterback Cam Newton shared his fashion philosophy with the Mint at the time his foundation loaned his Versace suit ensemble to round out the exhibition with a menswear sample: “I like to incorporate my individual style into everything I do, especially my fashion sense. From a young age I was encouraged to always be myself, and I make it a point to empower others to do the same. Expressing myself through fashion is something I take seriously…but not so seriously that I can’t have fun with it. Having fun is the name of the game for me. I like classic looks with a twist of something different, like some colorful loafers or a bold tie. Don’t be afraid to stand out! Check out this outfit, for example. The pin stripe Versace suit is classic. It’s dressy, but not too formal. The jacket could even be worn with jeans and a V-neck. I chose the full suit paired with a white dress shirt, a handmade feather bow tie from Charleston’s Brackish Bow Ties, and some colorful Giuseppe Zanotti loafers to complete the look.”