To ‘Dye’ For

‘Fashion in Colors’, the effective and dramatic new exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum which runs through March 26th, begins with a promise that it won’t be like “your usual fashion exhibition” (something which they have certainly accomplished) and concludes with the observation, “Evolving technology will provide access to an even wider range of available colors, palettes, hues in the future”. In their effort to explore the powerful effects of color within the world of fashion design, 68 distinctly innovative and artistic outfits representing the last 300 years of Western fashion, (predominantly culled from the permanent exhibit at the Kyoto Institute), are arranged not by designer or chronology, but in separate rooms on two floors by color (black, multi color, blue, red, yellow, white). Even the lighting in each passage is color keyed. It certainly makes a powerful statement.

But it’s all about the designs, which range from a multi colored voluminous 18th century French brocaded silk printed dress to a pink ribbon Viktor & Rolf costume from 2005. In between, there are breathtaking 19th century French, English, and American day dresses, evening gowns, corsets and petticoats, coats, riding habits, and wedding gowns, which are no less arresting or statement making than the jewels bearing iconic labels like Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel, Yohji Yamamoto, Elsa Schiaparelli, Robert Piguet, Emilio Pucci, Yves. St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Cristobal Balenciaga, and Mariano Fortuny, Viktor & Rolf, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, and Junya Watanabe. Ah, but that is precisely the point. (By the way, the last three designers seem to have been ‘disproportionately represented’ but for a good reason as you will see). Another interesting point that resounded loud and clear is how difficult if not impossible, it was, to discern which outfit is the ancient original, and which is the modern interpretation.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the lighting, dramatic as it was (in the ‘black’ room), is so dark it is almost hard to really appreciate the clothes, but I certainly have no complaint with the informative and handy fold up ‘Fashion in Colors’ brochure (‘made possible’ by Mr. and Mrs. John A. Griffin and the Consulate-General of The Netherlands in New York) which catalogues the entire exhibit from beginning to end.

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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