Our Visit to Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

China Chic: East Meets West

One of my favourite parts of our study trip to New York was spending the day at FIT, where we explored their collections, met with their amazing staff and visited two temporary exhibitions: Fabric in Fashion, which looked at how textiles affect the silhouette of 250 years of Western fashion, and Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT. Exhibitionism was a fabulous and fascinating show that reflected upon some of the museum’s most groundbreaking exhibitions over the last fifty years. Not only did it spotlight some incredible pieces in their collection, both historical and contemporary, but also gave insight into the curatorial thought process. I loved the self-reflexive nature of the exhibition, where objects were grouped by how they were used in past shows. The text panels accompanying various exhibits explained the nature of each show and what curators were attempting to explore. This framing was particularly helpful, as we’re currently working on our Virtual Exhibitions for our MA course, and Exhibitionism essentially mapped out the thought process and approach taken by curatorial and academic all-stars like Valerie Steele. It also introduced me to the work of curators with whom I wasn’t familiar, including Emma McClendon, who we then had the pleasure of meeting as she shared some of FIT’s couture collection with us! Furthermore, it taught me a lot about the goals of the institution to maintain an academic approach in their focused and thoughtful exhibitions, and its role as a teaching museum.

Gothic: Dark Glamour

It was also fun to walk through and catch glimpses of past exhibitions which I hadn’t seen, including Gothic: Dark Glamour from 2009 and China Chic: East Meets West (1999). The labels accompanying each object also listed other shows that they had been used in, highlighting the various ways one garment can be interpreted. The exhibition as a whole was spectacular, visually appealing and cohesive, despite the vast range of objects included. The introductory wall text mentioned how this exhibition helps look towards the museum’s future by reflecting on the past: a sentiment that I think is so vital to considering how fashion collections operate, and to thoughtfully growing and changing as an institution.

Gowns from Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion and American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion

Lily’s New York Highlights

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This was my first trip outside Europe, which was exciting in itself. I enjoyed taking long walks and exploring the city on foot; the walk from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village was especially interesting for the variety of architecture that we saw. I also liked seeing the embroidery samplers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as such pieces are not often displayed in museums, and it was interesting to read about the historic role of embroidery in girls’ schooling.

Open knit evening dress, circa 1810, The Museum at FIT

At The Museum at FIT, my favourite exhibit was an open knit evening dress from England, ca. 1810, featured in the Fabric in Fashion exhibition. Its cut was typical of the period, but the open knit rendered it a striking take on the Regency trend for sheer fabrics. Upstairs, in the FIT Special Collections, I liked leafing through copies of Rags magazine from 1970. They featured some clever fashion advertisements aimed at counterculture youth, and I found the coded classifieds for New York tattooing services (illegal in the city from 1961-1997) particularly interesting.

Countercultural fashion advertisement in Rags, 1970, FIT Special Collections

Another memorable feature of the New York trip – albeit for different reasons – was the sub-zero temperatures and biting winds. In fact, when I returned to London, my first thought upon alighting the plane was that the temperature here felt practically tropical in comparison.