The Museum at FIT presents Fashion Unraveled, an innovative exhibition devoted to the concepts of imperfection and incompletion in fashion. Garments that are altered, unfinished, or deconstructed, in addition to clothing that shows signs of wear, will highlight the aberrant beauty in flawed objects. Unless such imperfections are intentional—as they are in the case of deconstructed fashion—these items are often overlooked in museum collections. Fashion Unraveled includes a selection of more than 65 garments, accessories, and textiles from the museum’s permanent collection, highlighting objects that are not only visually compelling, but that often also tell intriguing stories about their makers and/or wearers.
It is only in recent years that imperfect or inauthentic objects have been given greater consideration, as interest in their “biographies” has grown. Signs of repeated wear, shortened hemlines, and careful mends can be found even on haute couture garments, and they highlight the lasting economic and emotional worth of many clothes within museum collections. These findings—which are often unseen and unknown by museum visitors—challenge the concept of fashion as a strictly ephemeral, disposable commodity. Fashion Unraveled will also reveal how the appearance of aged clothing, with its flaws and signs of wear, has been embraced by many designers as an aesthetic choice, furthering the reconstruction of notions about beauty and value in fashion.
The exhibition opens with a section titled “Behind the Seams,” with the first group of objects devoted to the dressmaking process, including a toile for a late 1950s coat by Cristóbal Balenciaga. This type of garment, commonly made from inexpensive, unbleached muslin, allows a designer to test a new pattern. The example featured in Fashion Unraveled remains pinned together in several places and retains traces of the couturier’s pencil markings. It is shown beside a spring 2000 dress by Yohji Yamamoto that intentionally mimics the look of a toile. Red and black topstitching on muslin replicates the look of basting stitches, while a loosely draped, asymmetrical overlay in black cotton gives the appearance of a work in progress. Yamamoto’s inspiration for this collection came from his study of toiles by another great couturier, Charles James.
“Behind the Seams” also includes several garments that came to the museum with compelling histories. These include a 1956 evening dress in periwinkle and yellow silk chiffon by Jean Dessès, donated by Lady Arlene Kieta, the model who wore it in a couture presentation for the designer. She disclosed that the dress was made from 66 yards of fabric and sold for $15,000 at the time of its creation. A deep red chiffon evening dress by Halston, dating to the late 1970s and worn by the fashionable socialite Jane Holzer, is paired with a quilted silk jacket of the same hue by Thea Porter—an ensemble that Halston himself put together. This portion of the exhibition is accompanied by entries from “Wearing Memories,” a crowdsourced project that invites contributors to share photographs and stories about garments that hold special meaning to them.
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