Now It Can Be Told: “Black Fashion Designers” At The Museum at FIT

Without dwelling too deeply on the root cause (for the moment), it’s very rare to find black fashion designers represented in a great many of the recent costume exhibitions at museums great and small across the United States. At this moment, if you want to see a decent and wide-ranging look at black fashion designers, you would have to visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., where designs from Tracy Reese,  other black fashion designers and other creative men and women are on permanent display. The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (The Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue at 27 Street, New York City 10001-5992), since 1975, has continuously work to create exhibitions, programs, and publications that are both entertaining and educational. Black Fashion Designer is eye-opening, entertaining and above all else, quite educational. It’s a good start.

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Mimi Plange, dress, Spring 2013, USA, Gift of Mimi Plange, 2016.49.1

Black Fashion Designers, opening December 6, 2016 (Fashion & Textile History Gallery, December 6 – May 16, 2017) at The Museum at FIT, examines the significant, but often unrecognized, impact that designers of African descent have had on fashion. The exhibition features approximately 75 fashions by more than 60 designers. Although there have been exhibitions (few and far between) on individual black designers, this is the first major exhibition in many years that highlights the global history of black fashion designers from the 1950s to the present. All of the objects on display are part of the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT.

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Patrick Kelly, dress, Fall/Winter 1986, France, Museum purchase, 2016.48.1

Black Fashion Designers opens with a fall 1986 evening dress by Patrick Kelly, embellished with vintage buttons. Buttons were a recurring motif for Kelly, whose grandmother would mend the family’s clothing. Alongside it is a fall 2012 ensemble by Nigerian-born, British designer Duro Olowu, whose knowledge of international textiles and affinity for mixing prints is evident in an intricate lace cape.

The introductory section of the exhibition also includes a beautiful wedding gown by society dressmaker Ann Lowe, who is best known for designing Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress. Lawrence Steele, a Milan-based African-American designer, is represented by a stunning black evening dress accented with Swarovski crystals. Lagos-based designer Amaka Osakwe was inspired by the rich history of Nigerian story-telling when creating her contemporary, cut-fringe dress. Another highlight is Laura Smalls’s red-and-white floral print dress—famously worn by First Lady Michelle Obama when she sang with rapper Missy Elliot on James Corden’s carpool karaoke.

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Ann Lowe, wedding dress, 1968, USA, Gift of Judith A. Tabler, 2009.70.2

Black Fashion Designers is organized into eight themes, beginning with “Breaking Into the Industry,” which examines black designers working in New York. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Arthur McGee and Wesley Tann challenged discrimination in the industry. Other designers followed in their footsteps, playing a major role in building New York as a fashion capital. During the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Willi Smith built a large, international fashion house from his quirky twists on classic sportswear, seen in a multicolored, striped ensemble. Today, Tracy Reese is an indispensable mainstay. Her multicolored striped gown shows her feminine and elegant style.

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Lawrence Steele, dress, Spring 2002, Italy, Gift of Lawrence Steele, 2016.62.1

The next theme, “The Rise of the Black Designer,” focuses on the period from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, when disco music and dance clubs inspired fashion. Stephen Burrows’s gold evening pajamas and Scott Barrie’s black-and-red silk jersey wrap dress, defined the era’s glamorous, body-conscious style. The fashion and mainstream press of the 1970s celebrated black designers such as Burrows and Barrie, in contrast to today, when only one percent of the designers shown on VogueRunway.com are black. Continue reading

Trend-ology: New Exhibition to Open at The Museum at FIT

Fashion & Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT

December 3, 2013 – April 30, 2014

The Museum at FIT will present Trend-ology, a new exhibition that examines the sources from which fashion trends have emerged over the past 250 years. Themes highlighted include 18th-century court dress, the rise of the couturier in 19th-century Paris, hip hop fashion, and more recent developments related to blogging, fast fashion, and social-media networking. Featuring approximately 100 objects from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition will also highlight industry developments that have had an impact on how trends propagate. The show features designs by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier, Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, and Opening Ceremony, to name a few. Also on view is a video produced exclusively for Trend-ology, featuring interviews with fashion insiders Simon Doonan, Carol Lim of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo, Saul Lopez Silva of WGSN, and many others.

(left) Rodarte, evening dress, black and nude net, wool, black leather, beads, cheese cloth, and metal gauze, spring 2010, USA, museum purchase, (right) Rodarte for Target, evening dress, polyester crepe chiffon, 2009, USA, gift of The Fashion and Textile Studies Department and the School of Graduate Studies

(left) Rodarte, evening dress, black and nude net, wool, black leather, beads, cheese cloth, and metal gauze, spring 2010, USA, museum purchase, (right) Rodarte for Target, evening dress, polyester crepe chiffon, 2009, USA, gift of The Fashion and Textile Studies Department and the School of Graduate Studies

Fashion trends change every season, with shifts in print, color, material, embellishment, and silhouette. These derive from a variety of sources, including urban street style, art, music, film, and socio-political movements. The word “trend” first arose as an economic term used to describe shifts in financial markets. Today, the word is ubiquitous in the fashion media, and trend forecasting companies have made researching and predicting trends a profitable business.

Yet, as we move further into the 21st century, specific trends seem increasingly hard to define. The advent of fast fashion, the internet, and social media have created a quick-paced global environment in which fashion trends emerge and spread in faster and more complex ways than ever before. By looking back at the history of trends, Trend-ology aims to help viewers gain insight into the current state of the trend cycle.

Louis Vuitton (Takashi Murakami), “Speedy 30” monogram handbag, multicolor monogram canvas, 2003, France, museum purchase

Louis Vuitton (Takashi Murakami), “Speedy 30” monogram handbag, multicolor monogram canvas, 2003, France, museum purchase

Trend-ology will open with an overview of 21st-century developments in fashion retailing. These will include examples from fast-fashion companies, such as Zara, H&M, and Topshop, that have contributed to the increasing fascination–and anxiety–surrounding trends. High-low collaborations, including a “Rodarte for Target” sequined dress from 2009, will be juxtaposed with high fashion designs–in this case, a runway piece from Rodarte’s spring 2010 collection. A selection of “It” bags, including a Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 bag designed in collaboration with Japanese artist Takeshi Murakami, will illustrate how important the sale of accessories has become to luxury brands during the new millennium. To highlight the recent emergence of concept stores, the introductory section will culminate with ensembles from Opening Ceremony and Colette.

The exhibition’s historical chronology will begin with two 18th-century ensembles, one for a man and the other for a woman, rendered in vibrant shades of yellow. Once negatively associated with “heretics,” yellow became a trendy color in 18th-century dress. The change in yellow’s cultural meaning can be traced to the growing popularity in Europe of chinoiserie. In China, yellow was an auspicious color associated with the emperor.

(left) Dress, yellow silk faille, circa 1770, USA (possibly), museum purchase, (right) Men’s coat, yellow silk, circa 1790,  USA (possibly), museum purchase

(left) Dress, yellow silk faille, circa 1770, USA (possibly), museum purchase, (right) Men’s coat, yellow silk, circa 1790, USA (possibly), museum purchase

(left) Dress, yellow silk faille, circa 1770, USA (possibly), museum purchase, (right) Men’s coat, yellow silk, circa 1790,  USA (possibly), museum purchase

(left) Dress, yellow silk faille, circa 1770, USA (possibly), museum purchase, (right) Men’s coat, yellow silk, circa 1790, USA (possibly), museum purchase

Dress, tartan silk, circa 1812, Scotland, museum purchase

Dress, tartan silk, circa 1812, Scotland, museum purchase

A selection of tartan dresses will show a recurring international trend for tartan dress that emerged during the 19th century from the widespread popularity of Sir Walter Scott’s Scottish-themed novels.

Starting in the mid-19th century, the pace of the trend cycle was accelerated by certain capitalist developments, such as the emergence of the couture house and the subsequent rise of the department store. These developments will be addressed in Trend-ology with a dress, circa 1883, by couturier Charles Fredrick Worth shown alongside an ensemble from Lord & Taylor, circa 1895, and a Lord & Taylor mail-order catalogue from the same period. Continue reading