Left: Halston Evening dress Light blue silk jersey 1972-73, USA Right: Chloe (Karl Lagerfeld) Evening dress Off-white cotton knit, white silk chiffon Circa 1977, France
Just as “The Lookonline” commits itself completely to fashion, The Museum at FIT is the only museum in NYC solely dedicated to the art of fashion. Under the direction of Dr. Valerie Steele (chief curator) and the support of the Couture Council, FIT continually brings us creative and informative exhibits that are impeccably displayed and well thought out. Their newest show entitled “Seduction” opened yesterday and will be on display through June 16, 2009.
For her debut at The Museum, curator Colleen Hill (the museums youngest at age 25) takes us on a sensual journey through time covering the past 250 years. I was anxious to ask Ms. Hill what criteria she used to make her selections as I couldn’t imagine the difficulty in narrowing down 250 years into only 70 garments. But, unfortunately she was unable to attend her own premiere. Thankfully, Valerie (Steele) was kind enough to walk me through the exhibition and share with me Colleen’s perspective on the concept she presented to Valerie about a year ago. The process began that long ago and Ms. Hill started her research and the laborious task of reviewing the 50,000 garments in The Museum’s permanent collection!
Left: Irene Cocktail Suit Black velvet, pale pink silk Circa 1950, USA Right: Cristobal Balenciaga Cocktail dress Black lace, black silk, fuchsia silk Circa 1958, France
Seduction is subjective. In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what one person considers seductive may not evoke the same reaction in someone else. This is particularly applicable to fashion. While Colleen chose a fair amount of feminine styles (apparently very much a reflection of her personal taste), that’s not to say something more racy or even raunchy couldn’t be considered seductive as well. In keeping with the theme, one could understand Colleen’s desire to include lingerie. Of course, Valerie supported the idea and said, “I also encouraged lots of shoes!”
Left: Evening slippers Pale blue silk satin, ivory silk, ivory lace Circa 1850, France Right: Evening dress Cream silk taffeta, satin tulle, cording and tassles, black silk ribbon Circa 1865, Scotland
History depicts so distinctly through fashion what was considered seductive during a given period. For example, in modern times we may not consider demurely attired, covered-up bodies to be sexy or risqué but, as Ms. Hill refers to the nineteenth century in her narrative; “The flirtatious swing of a crinoline provided a brief but pleasing glimpse of the ankle and lower calf.” Clearly, seduction is very much linked to the forbidden. I’m reminded of the film “Memoirs of a Geisha” in which the Geisha was told how enticing it was for a man to see a sliver of the inside of her wrist, (should she allow it to be revealed), while pouring tea.
Left: Vivienne Westwood Evening dress Silver leather, silver metallic silk, white chiffon 1988, England Right: Jean Paul Gaultier "Corset" Dress Peach cotton/nylon blend, peach satin Circa 1987, France
Thankfully, we are no longer wearing crinolines or bustles (at least most of us) to enhance our shape but the corset, on the other hand, is timeless and has been utilized, modified and refined since its invention. The corset flattered and whittled the waist into the painfully exaggerated hourglass figure popular in the Victorian Era. McQueen, Westwood and Gaultier are a few current designers who continually draw inspiration from the corset. Fortunately, these styles don’t cause fainting.
Czech designer Sárka Sisková with her dress at right
I love Coleen’s simplistic, to-the-point statement in her narrative; “The proximity of clothing to the body is inherently sensual.” Body conscious apparel doesn’t necessarily need to be tight fitting to be sexy. This concept is perfectly depicted through Czech designer Sárka Sisková’s 2008 evening dress in pink silk chiffon. Apart from the bust, the fabric is draped so that it falls away from the body in soft voluminous folds creating a provocative package. I asked Ms. Sisková (who showed for the first time in NYC this past May at The Museum of Arts & Design), how she got involved with FIT. She responded, “The Museum at FIT is the most fashionable museum in the world!” She contacted Director and Chief Curator, Valerie Steele to ask if she would take a look at her collection and Valerie agreed. Apparently, the meeting resulted in Ms. Sisková’s donation to this exhibition.
Manolo Blahnik Mules White silk brocade, burgundy ostrich feathers 1998, England
Other designers on display (not pictured)include: Azzedine Alaia, Balenciaga (Nicolas Ghesquiere), Calvin Klein (Francisco Costa), Pierre Cardin, Jean Desses, Dolce & Gabbana, Jacques Fath, Galliano (for Dior), Rudi Gernreich, Gucci (Tom Ford), Lanvin (Alber Elbaz), Rick Owens, Jane Regny, Rochas and Arnold Scaasi. There is even a Playboy Bunny costume (ears and all) as well as a few menswear pieces featured (including an ensemble by Ennio Capasa for Costume National Homme). The garments, shoes and accessories are accompanied by photos (one of which is a gift of the Estate of John Rawlings), vintage drawings (such as the black and white Harpers Bazaar sketches from the late 1800’s) and patterned fabric wall hangings. Ms. Hill did a fantastic job on her first show and I look forward to more.
-Stacy Lomman (article & photos)