For the Denver Art Museum’s newest fashion-related show Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck, local architecture firm Sort Studio crafted a contemporary and feminine exhibit space fit for the dresses showcased within.

Words: Katie Grogan
Photos: Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum has brought fashion’s biggest names to the Mile High City through exhibits like Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective (2012) and Dior: From Paris to the World (2018-2019). In the newest fashion exhibition to grace our city, local design firm Sort Studio brings together the work of these fashion icons and many more with a contemporary gallery design that showcases the wardrobe and love story of a classic Hollywood couple.
Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck showcases over four decades of fashion through the wardrobe of Véronique Peck and the star-studded life she led with actor Gregory Peck. Perhaps best described as a “proto-influencer,” Véronique’s life in the public eye meant that the clothes she wore acted as an endorsement for the designers that made them, effectively popularizing the work of many established European designers like André Courréges that had yet to gain traction in the United States. The exhibit, which opened in the Anschutz gallery of the Denver Art Museum in March, consists of some 100 dresses and accessories — many custom-made for Peck — by some of fashion’s biggest names like Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and more. By tracing Véronique’s life from Parisian journalist to glamorous Hollywood socialite, the exhibit aimed to address the history of fashion but also underscore the dialogic relationship between the two cities.
To tackle this tall order, curator Florence Müller tapped local firm Sort Studio to help bring the vision to life. For Meredith and Brian Dale, the duo behind the Denver-based multi-disciplinary art and architecture practice, it was the perfect opportunity. The exhibition brought together Meredith’s design expertise on materials and contemporary applied arts with Brian’s experience working on large-scale complex buildings as Associate at Zaha Hadid Architects. The two had experience designing for and within cultural buildings before starting their own firm, but this would be their first foray into exhibition design as a team.
The concept for the design arose from an image that fittingly sits at the beginning of the exhibit. “We were inspired by this beautiful photograph of [Véronique and Gregory Peck] standing underneath a grand stone archway — high fashion and architecture together,” says Meredith. “We started thinking about the simple form of the arch and how that could carry through the exhibition space to create passageways that lead visitors through the show from scene to scene.”
Drawing on the overarching theme of the arch, the firm decided on white scrim fabric divides to set the scenes of the space, which are organized partially by chronology, but more according to parts of the Pecks’ life story. The partial transparency of the fine mesh textile tempts the viewer farther into the exhibit while its materiality echoes the dresses on display. “We wanted the space to feel very fluid,” says Brian. “The fabric arches help create moments of pause and expansion as you go from space to space.” 
The form of the arch continues to the built elements of the gallery like the platforms and furniture pieces, and even permeates to the gallery’s lowest level — the floor. White vinyl lines delicately trace the edges of the gallery and its defined spaces, mimicking the arches above. But the lines speak to the happy accidents that can occur with interdisciplinary collaboration. When seen through the lens of Müller, purely functional elevation markings on the firm’s proposed design became an unexpected graphic detail that underscores the gallery and its spaces.
One of the gallery’s signature design elements — its pink walls — was also unintentional. “The walls were all white originally and the dresses were going to bring the color to the exhibition,” says Brian. But a faulty printer produced a pink diagram by mistake, giving the team the idea to enrobe the gallery in a ribbon of pink. The backdrop, which is in Benjamin Moore’s Tickled Pink, lends unity to the various scenes, while its strict horizontality works with and recognizes the voluminous angles provided by the gallery’s unique architecture.
However, Meredith and Brian originally designed the exhibit for a completely different space. When Sort Studio was approached about the exhibit, the plan was to host the show in a smaller, L-shaped gallery in the refurbished Ponti building. However, the pandemic pushed out the re-opening of the building opening by six months and created an opportunity for the exhibition to move to the larger and more public Anschutz gallery. Thankfully, the duo’s parametric design process made the transition relatively easy. “I like to say that we design systems rather than buildings or objects,” says Brian. “So we didn’t have to completely redesign everything. We took the initial idea and adapted it, adjusting the model until it felt like it was really meant for that particular space, rather than just shoe-horned into place.”

The white vinyl lines that trace the edges of the gallery are an unexpected graphic element that arose from interdisciplinary interpretation of Sort Studio’s architectural diagrams.

But the gallery also posed some unique challenges. For all exhibits housed in the Anschutz gallery, one of the biggest challenges is working around a prominent double-door emergency exit, which for safety reasons, is not easy to disguise. “It was tricky because you can’t block it, but nobody wants to look at it, especially as the first thing when you walk in [to the final room]” says Meredith. In the end, Sort Studio settled on a cleverly placed projection screen, which draws your attention down and away from the “Exit” sign and shields the doorway from view, without obstructing its vital function.
The show, which opened in April and will run through mid-July, has been incredibly well-received and both Sort Studio and curator Florence Müller have only positive things to say about how it all turned out. “Sort Studio found a perfect way to translate the common line between Paris and Hollywood in the curvy and pure structure, both feminine and contemporary, light and full of surprise,” says Müller. “Their set design translates the elegance of Véronique Peck: simple but sharp, glamorous but never too showy.”
With one successful partnership with the Denver Art Museum under their belts, Meredith and Brian are grateful for the creative freedom they were given for the project and the collaborative insight of Müller who understood their vision and was willing to take risks. “We are also working on some new projects that will be part of the Martin Building reopening in the fall that we can’t wait to unveil,” says Meredith. “The museum environment is an ideal place to quickly test ideas, materials, and forms that will find their way into our more permanent works.”