Living “La Vida Loca” at The Museum at FIT

Valerie Steele, Tanya Melendez, Ruben Toledo, & Melissa Mara Alvarez – Photo Laurel Marcus

As smoke wafted from Canada last night (as wildfires evidently will do), The Museum at FIT was on fire with Latin American energy. The opening party was “lit” with the Latin music pumping, champagne flowing (although maybe sangria would have been a more appropriate libation), and the festively attired crowd was happy to be out and about.

Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today seeks to represent the sometimes underrepresented and disparate influences of a “region that has historically been dismissed by Eurocentric fashion voices as underdeveloped,” according to MFIT’s press materials.

Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The exhibition, which features over 60 objects from the museum’s permanent collection and bilingual text in English and Spanish, runs until November 12. Established fashion designers of Latin American descent, including Carolina Herrera (who, perfectly on topic, just showed a resort collection in Rio), Oscar de la Renta,

Lauren Levison in Jonathan Cohen – Photo by Laurel Marcus

Alexandre Herchcovitch, Edmundo Castillo, Victor Alfaro, and Haider Ackermann, have ushered in new talents such as Gabriela Hearst (the just-announced honoree at FIT’s September Couture Council), Jonathan Cohen, Romina Cardillo of Nous Etudions, Willy Chavarria, Raul Lopez of LUAR, and Kika Vargas, to share and perhaps overtake the spotlight.

Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The exhibition points out that there is no singular Latin American style which is apparent in the diversity of the fashions represented here – from elegant evening attire (Herrera and de la Renta) to colorful knitwear (Hearst) to modern sportswear with an eye to sustainability (Zero + Maria Cornejo), just to mention the tip of the iceberg. (An iceberg would have been welcome since it was also quite warm in the crowded space).

Photo by Laurel Marcus

Dr. Joyce Brown, president of FIT, gave a short speech introducing curators Tanya Melendez-Escalante, senior curator of education and public programs, and Melissa Marra-Alvarez, curator of education and research, welcoming everyone to the party. She stopped short of announcing Ms. Hearst as the luncheon award recipient, but some astute fashion editors (our own Marilyn Kirschner) somehow figured it out on the cab ride home.

Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

So how did party guests interpret the Spanish theme? As you can imagine, there were plenty of embroidered flowers or scrollwork on dresses and on men’s shirts (one of my first thoughts regarding a Latin American dress code), a lot of red and black (one of my all-time favorite color combos and my second thought) as well as muy caliente colors such as FIT’s Patricia Mears in almost neon pink. There were feathers, rhinestones, and buff men in practically no clothes. Oh my!

Marilyn Kirschner & Ralph Rucci – Photo by PC Chandra

I didn’t see as many ruffles as I had expected – I guess one of my first conjured-up images of a flamenco dancer was off the mark. Speaking of Marilyn, who always has the best vintage fashion for the theme – her sequin-encrusted Mexican circle skirt was the night’s hit. Even on the subway, peeking out under a protective black trench, she received compliments! Someday I will do a whole article on Marilyn’s “quick change disguises.”

Illustration by Ruben Toledo of a gown by Isabel Toledo

Fashion luminaries who attended (albeit briefly) included Nina Garcia (in a black pantsuit) and the legendary Ralph Rucci, who inexplicably wore a black and white Yohji Yamamoto shirt with Japanese writing and black shorts. It’s also great to see Ruben Toledo – a great sketch of his of Isabel’s design is included in the exhibition.

“There was too much emotion in one room. Too many wonderful, dear friends and Isabels, with no Isabel. I sobbed as soon as I got out!”

Ruben Toledo

Susan Scafidi, Marilyn Kirschner, & Robert di Mauro – Photo by Laurel Marcus

I always enjoy seeing Professor Susan Scafidi, Founder of Fashion Law Institute, out in the wild and Attorney Jeff Trexler, Interim Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Prof. Scafidi looked radiant in Maria Cornejo, while Trexler said he’s busy “prepping for Comic-Con” – no, not his costume but his legal legwork. Ha Ha!

Patricia Mears – Photo by Laurel Marcus

Apparently, there was an after-party for the PYT’s (do they still use that dated phrase meaning the pretty hip young ‘uns)? PatBo celebrated their inclusion in the exhibition with an event at Café Habana, which looked fun if you were under 35ish.

Guest – photo by Laurel Marcus

As in the Hollywood award shows, someone is always left out – whether it’s for a nomination or even (Heaven forbid) in the In Memoriam section (the final insult), and in this case, it was a glaring oversight.

Victor dE Souza and his muse Jean Shafiroff wearing his design

Many mentioned that New York society’s own very talented Victor dE Souza (born into a Portuguese family in Argentina) should have been included in the array of designers featured.

I had even lamented not having access to one of his haute couture creations to wear to the fiesta. I just caught up with Victor at the NYBG Conservatory ball last week, and no matter – he is living “la vida loca” with more women to dress than you could shake your maracas at.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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