October 05, 2011

What's On At The Museum at FIT

Founded in 1969 as an integral part of the Fashion Institute of Technology's ambition to "collect, conserve, document, exhibit and interpret fashion", The Museum at FIT presents exhibitions and publications of an academic nature that are also immensely appealing to anyone interested in the evolution of style.

The fall, The Museum at FIT presents two divergent but compelling exhibitions. On the main floor we find "Sporting Life" a historical review of sports clothing and how it has evolved from the mid nineteenth century to the present. Focusing on sixteen various sports including bicycling, tennis, swimming and skiing, the exhibition examines how the styles have changed according to social custom, changing ideas of beauty and technological advances in fabrics and materials, and also how athletic attire has influenced fashions worn off the playing field or beach.

Drawn largely from the Museum's own collection of garments the curators present each sport's clothing in chronological order. For example, the swimming section ranges from heavy woolen bloomers to less cumbersome, but still wool, maillot style bathing suits to today's super-sleek techno racing suits. Or tennis togs that began as loose-fitting but long-sleeved and long-skirted white linen dresses for women to shorter-skirted but still very ladylike outfits to spandex form-fitting performance attire favored by today's tennis players.

It was amusing to see how many designers were influenced by sporting attire in their regular clothing lines. Examples such as Manolo Blanik's 1994 high heeled version of the L.L. Bean duck boot and Norma Kamali's 1980's collection of sweatsuit fashion separates made me realize how pervasive athletic clothing has become in today's society.

Moving downstairs to the Special Exhibitions Gallery we come to an homage to fashion icon "Daphne Guinness". Known for her signature eight-inch platform shoes and her platinum and black striped hair, Daphne Guinness (daughter of the brewery heir and grand daughter of a Mitford sister) is also a passionate collector of vintage couture fashion and gorgeous diamond jewelry.

For this exhibition the space is divided into an small foyer featuring her vertiginous shoes displayed as sculptures behind glass and a large gallery with six sections focusing on "Dandyism", "Armor", "Chic", "Evening Chic", "Exoticism" and "Sparkle". The setting is rather simple but ethereal videos playing above and around the viewer and the stunning clothes enhanced with all that sparkling jewelry is finally quite dramatic. Ms. Guinness has a eye for design and her collection of modern vintage clothing by some of today's top designers is superb. Nothing is more than 25 years old, but the elegance and detail of the clothing she has acquired makes it seem more classic. Marvelous examples of couture dresses and separates by Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and some of her own designs, are displayed on white mannequins and enhanced with copious glittering jewels.

The Museum at FIT is located on the Institute's campus in the heart of the garment district. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free.

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