Celebrating the imperfect at FIT

In a nod to the beauty that can be found in imperfection, the Museum at FIT has opened “Fashion Unraveled.”

The groundbreaking exhibition devoted to the concepts of imperfection and incompletion in fashion will continue through Nov. 17 at the museum on the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

WAG attended the May 30 press preview, led through the impressively broad exhibition by its curator, Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories at the museum.

“‘Fashion Unraveled’ isn’t meant to be a typical fashion exhibition,” she told us as we started our informal tour. “I wanted to show the stories behind fashion.”

As she noted, fashion exhibitions traditionally spotlight garments in pristine condition, examples drawn together to explore a theme, a designer or a time period or style.

Here, some 60-plus objects selected from the museum’s collection – representing the 18th century through today – shine a light on concepts including imperfection, incompletion and memory in fashion.

Works are themed in five sections:

  • “Behind the Seams” offers anecdotes on a garment’s creation or the way it was worn, details often provided by the designer or donor but not always shared during exhibitions;
  • “Mended and Altered” looks at the ways, often not easily visible, that garments were modified over their history;
  • “Repurposed” features clothing that has been entirely remade, such as a quirky men’s dressing gown from the 1930s fashioned out of a 19th-century “crazy” quilt, which was itself fashioned out of fabric scraps;
  • “Unfinished” looks at styles that are incomplete, by chance or by choice; and
  • “Distressed and Deconstructed,” surveys the ways designers integrate the aesthetic of imperfection in their work.

It all adds up to a most thoughtful walk through fashion history, one also examining the story behind garments ranging from a circa-1750 brocade stay (bodice) to a 1912 Paul Poiret dress, from a 2002 Oscar de la Renta dress with a statement-making unraveled hem to a 1966 Betsey Johnson jumpsuit, an explosion of color and stripes fashioned out of musician John Cale’s rugby shirts.

These stories behind the pieces truly resonate, inviting us to think about clothes loved so much they wear out and need mending, about clothing or fabrics so valued they was repaired or passed down and clothing that challenges our very ideas of perfection.

Mimi Prober, a New York-based designer and FIT graduate who has a one of her trademark ethereal creations on display, was also on hand for the preview. Prober’s dress from her spring 2018 Dreamscape collection is a study in combining the spirit of yesterday with the approach of today, a design integrating an antique corset and lace and a highlight of the “Repurposed” section.

“I try to have a little bit of a story,” she said, noting her materials often date from the 18th-century through the early 1920s. “It’s honoring the handmade and the art and the craft.”

The countless designers featured – a heady list that also includes Lanvin, Issey Miyake, Maison Martin Margiela, Ralph Lauren, Arnold Scaasi, Madeleine Vionnet, Rick Owens, Geoffrey Beene, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others – and selected pieces from their work combine to offer a decidedly unique look at fashion.

As Hill said, “Fashion Unraveled” was created to explore our collective connection with what we wear – and it indeed provides plenty of fashions for thought.

For more, visit fitnyc.edu/museum.

– Mary Shustack

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