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March 21, 2014

Author talks will open new PEM exhibit

Who better to explain the meaning of fashion than a former model with a PhD?

Ashley Mears, assistant professor of sociology at Boston University, will discuss “From Bullet Bras to Bra Burning” at Peabody Essex Museum on Saturday, March 29, at 3 p.m.

The presentation will also feature novelist Sigrid Nunez and is part of the opening-day celebration for the museum’s new exhibit, “California Design 1930 to 1965: Living in a Modern Way.”

“Mears will do a presentation with slides, a talk about fashion and feminism,” said Dawne Shand, who organizes the Tannery Series, which is holding the talk. “Then, we’ll have Sigrid Nunez talk and read from her work.”

Mears’ book, “Pricing Beauty, The Making of a Fashion Model,” draws on her personal experience to analyze how the fashion world places a value on beauty and mostly fails to reward its models.

She will discuss bullet bras, which literally embodied an image of women that was current in the period covered by the exhibit.

“I think she’s going to specifically talk about the bra as a design element,” Shand said. “The era begins with those highly stylized, bullet-like bras.

“The exhibit talks about molded furniture and biomorphic shaping. We’ll be taking those design elements and talk about those in a fun way, as they relate to the lives of women.”

Nunez has published six novels that have won multiple awards and also wrote “Sempre Susan,” a memoir about working for writer, filmmaker and political activist Susan Sontag.

“The book gives a complicated look at Sontag,” Shand said. “I don’t think she thought of herself as a feminist and tried to distance herself from the movement, and that’s a lot of what Sigrid talks about.”

Nunez’s novel “The Last of Her Kind” also touches on themes that are relevant to the period the exhibit addresses.

“It’s a great American novel about what it means to be a radical,” Shand said. “I think she takes the idea of modernity one step further and addresses radical beliefs, particularly through the lives of two female characters.”

Reservations for the event, which is free with museum admission — It is free for Salem residents also — are requested by March 26 at www.pem.org by clicking on “calendar” and “Opening Day Celebration California Design.”

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