Fashion, with a decidedly French accent

“Paris, Capital of Fashion” at The Museum at FIT offers a whirlwind trip through – and thoughtfully explores its role in – fashion history.

I had the chance to again visit the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, a favorite haunt.

This most recent trip combined a walk through “Paris, Capital of Fashion” in the Special Exhibitions Gallery of The Museum at FIT followed by attending yet another of the school’s popular – and free – public events, this time a screening of “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” with the film followed by a panel discussion in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre of the adjacent Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center.

Needless to say, it was another informative, entertaining and enjoyable visit.

First up, the exhibition, an expansive and captivating show that continues through Jan. 4. As the museum’s director Valerie Steele writes in the accompanying brochure, “Paris has unquestionably played a very important role in the history of fashion. But Paris has also been mythologized, and this exhibition explores how the ‘aura’ of Paris fashion was constructed over many generations.”

Indeed, it’s a walk through time, illustrated by some 75 ensembles ranging from elaborate 18th-century day dresses to ballgowns from the late 19th-century, from kicky flapper dresses to classic Chanel suits and from disco-era dresses to accessories including shoes, hats and even parasols.

Examples trace the rise of haute couture and luxury goods, while exploring concepts such as power and politics, design and femininity and fashion as art.

In the end, as Steele also writes, “Over the years, London, New York, and Milan have repeatedly challenged the dominance of Paris – without ever permanently dethroning it. … More than any other city, Paris has produced and maintained its brand image as the international ‘capital of fashion.’”

The Parisian theme continued as I took in the screening of Deborah Riley Draper’s 2012 documentary on the storied fashion-show benefit. It was held, in theory, to raise funds to restore the Palace of Versailles – but in effect, turned into an America versus France fashion battle (spoiler alert: we won!).

The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring not only the filmmaker but also key figures from the 1973 event itself, including designer Stephen Burrows and model Alva Chinn, for example, once again proving that a night at FIT is always full of fashionable surprises.

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– Mary Shustack


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