CHICAGO -- Designer Maria Pinto, well-known for dressing first lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, used her eye for fashion to curate antiquities from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for a new exhibit that includes a century-old shredded bark Brazilian ceremonial costume and a woven monkey fur necklace.
The materials are a stretch from the rich, bright purple silk Pinto used to design the sheath Obama wore during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. "Fashion and The Field Museum Collection: Maria Pinto" opened Friday and includes an Inuit raincoat made of seal intestines. It was the first item that caught Pinto's attention, she said.
"I could totally see anyone wearing it," Pinto said. "What I loved about these creations was they had limited resources. They needed a raincoat and they realized they could use seal intestines. How creative is that?"
Pinto walked through the vast storage areas under the museum and chose items that appealed to her. Pinto and co-curator Alaka Wali chose 25 garments and adornments to pair with seven pieces from Pinto's collections. The museum items are juxtaposed with Pinto's designs.
"Part of the point is you can't tell if she designed them or someone in the Andes Amazon designed them," said Janet Hong, an exhibition project manager at the museum.
Another highlight is a full outfit designed by Pinto, who closed her Chicago boutique more than two years ago because of the poor economic climate. The outfit includes a structured blue wool coat, red fur collar and skinny pants. It was inspired by a Chinese theatrical headdress.
Pinto found herself particularly drawn to weapons, tools and armor in the museum collection. She matched metal elbow-length samurai gauntlets with a wool green suit for the office, saying the suit is modern-day armor for women.
"The whole idea of armor plays into a lot of how I envision what we wear every day," Pinto said.
Other Pinto designs in the exhibit include a sequined chiffon shoulderless cocktail dress from her 2008 fall collection and a knee-length black silk taffeta, bias-cut cocktail dress from her 2010 spring collection.
The exhibition has a trendier feel than many other exhibits at the museum known for dinosaurs and mummies. A large video is projected on one wall showing images from the exhibit accompanied by techno music that might be heard on runways in New York.
"I wanted it to be something more contemporary," Pinto said. "Make the music have an influence over the experience to the degree of making it more of an art gallery."
The exhibit runs through June 16.