March 05, 2016

What's On at the Fashion Institute of Technology

While the Fashion Institute of Technology is first and foremost a highly respected college for design, fashion and art, it also boasts a very fine museum with an outstanding exhibition program.  Located in the heart of New York's Garment District, the galleries offer a wide variety of themed shows with fashion and costume, both historic and contemporary, as the common thread.

Right now, the Museum at FIT is presenting two distinctly different exhibitions, one practical, the other fanciful, but both worthwhile.

Upstairs, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery, is "Denim: Fashion's Frontier", a small but interesting look at the history of denim clothing from the 19th century to the present.  While jeans are a staple in almost every modern wardrobe, that was hardly the case when Levi Strauss and Co. began to produce woven cotton denim work pants for prospectors in the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800s.  What began as purely a work wear fabric, expanded into uniforms and prison garb before becoming the preferred material for "Western Wear" and play clothes for tennis and the beach.

With factories hiring women workers during World War II, denim apparel was a practical option.  By the 1960s, jeans became groovy and a fashion statement all by themselves and it wasn't long before denim entered the mainstream for good.  The wearing of denim, once the symbol of a manual laborer, became haute couture and was embraced by designers around the world.  It continues to be re-purposed and re-interpreted in ways that Levi Strauss could never have imagined!

 Hand-embroidered pair of Levis denim jeans, circa 1969

A denim leisure suit by Raphael, circa 1973

A denim dress by Junya Watanabe, 2002

Moving downstairs, to the cavernous Special Exhibitions Gallery, we come to "Fairy Tale Fashion", a fantastical exhibition that looks at fairy tales through the eyes of high fashion.  Over eighty costumes and gowns from the 18th century to today are grouped to illustrate fifteen fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Lewis Carroll.  In some cases the gowns were directly inspired by a fairy tale, like these capes that relate to Little Red Riding Hood...

Or this beaded gown by Alexander McQueen that resembles Rapunzel's long, golden tresses...

In other cases, it is not a direct link but more of a feeling that the design of the gown exudes, like this hooded cape by J. Mendel that looks like something Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen would wear...

Or that the princess in Grimm's "Furrypelts" would be dressed in a glittering star frock like this one by Mary Liotta...

It is not hard to link the idea of fabulous fashion with fantasy characters.  Designers have always endeavored to created confections that make their wearers feel beautiful and special, like a fairy princess going to a ball.  After all, who doesn't have a bit of a Cinderella fantasy hidden deep down inside?!

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