Today, though, it’s a woman further down the art-world food chain who has captured the imagination of fashion designers and young professional women alike. Enter the gallery girl—the brainy, uncommercial type known to both wear and inspire a specific genre of brainy, less-commercial designer, from low-key New York–based labels like Rachel Comey and A Détacher to Euro standbys like Dries Van Noten and Maison Margiela. “These designers have a reference point in art,” says Esther Min, senior merchandise manager at Totokaelo, the Seattle-based store and website known for its artistic clientele. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of people who work within the art world or are creatively minded gravitate toward those designs.” Like the shopgirl or the fashion intern, the gallery girl is an entry-level archetype with a rich aesthetic mythology. (Yes, I’d prefer “gallery woman,” but sadly, this phrase—with its alliterative reminder of the assistant’s junior status—has irreversibly entered the lexicon.) A nerd, a hipster, or a rich girl—or all three!—she is both the first person a visitor sees when entering most galleries and also relatively inconsequential to the primary purpose of selling art, which is left to senior staffers. In a world in which money and creativity fight and make up with the passion of artist and muse, she must look like she belongs—on a budget of next to nothing (unless she comes from family money; many do). Consequently, many gallery girls offer up a breezy rhapsody about dressing up Zara and COS with a pair of loafers scored at The Row’s sample sale and a Chanel jacket inherited from one’s mother. (Who are all these mothers with vintage Chanel, anyway?!) From left: Artist Chloe Wise; Kathy Grayson, owner of The Hole gallery; JiaJia Fei, director of digital at the Jewish Museum; Pari Ehsan, fashion/art blogger behind Pari Dust BFAGetty+ Matteo Prandoni+Zach Hilty+Mireya Acierto+Pier Marco Tacca Like a painting of a black square on a white canvas, the art of dressing to work in an art gallery is more complex than it might appear at a glance, say gallery girls past and present. To “belong” here means not to peacock, as one might in an entry-level job in fashion, or neutralize one’s femininity, as in the hypermasculine world of finance, but to complement the environment. “You want to look polished and refined without being mundane,” says Catherine Henry, a former assistant at contemporary powerhouse Gagosian—you might call it “The Devil Funds Prada Marfa”—who’s now an associate director at art e-commerce site Artsy.
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