FIT Fashions the Fairy Tale 

Little Red Riding Hood
All photos Laurel Marcus 

The Museum at FIT’s Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition which opens today (through April 16), is definitely one for the books as well as one from the books — the story books of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll to be precise. Dealing with well known tales including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and some lesser known fables such as The Fairies, Furrypelts, The Swan Maidens and The Snow Queen, elements of fashion are culled from each story-line and interpreted here through garments and accessories spanning from the 18th century to the present from around the world.

“Beast” Louboutin’s
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According to Associate Curator Colleen Hill, more than half of the items are from the museum’s permanent collection and the rest are on loan from the designers themselves. During the press preview Ms. Hill, who came up with the concept for this exhibition, gave a tour highlighting many obscure facts not associated with the sanitized or “Disney-fied” versions of these stories. “Many of the macabre elements of these stories are lost” she said.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

These include Alice encountering skulls and other creepy sights along her journey; a tale of thwarted incest when a king wants to marry his princess daughter in Furrypelts; and a charming yarn about a girl’s feet having to be cut off at the ankles as a result of shoes that won’t stop dancing and can’t be removed in The Red Shoes.

Snow White in Alice + Olivia gown in coffin 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ms. Hill had nightmares reading the original tales many of which are faithfully represented here. “In Snow White the wicked stepmother actually tries to kill Snow White three times, it’s not just with the apple. Also, there’s an element of vanity in Snow White herself which makes her want to look good” which leads to the first attempt — corset strings tied too tightly.Snow White faints and has to be revived by the dwarfs. The second attempt is through a poisoned hair comb (aha vanity again!) , and of course, the third is with the poisoned apple, here represented by a Judith Leiber minaudiere.

Sleeping Beauty, Marchesa and Zuhair Murad

Another fashion reference appears in “Sleeping Beauty.” After her 100 year snooze it’s indeed possible that her opulent dress would no longer be the height of current fashion–a fact that the prince observes. Although she still looks beautiful to him he notices that her high collared dress is seriously out of style yet doesn’t tell her that it reminds him of something that his grandmother would have worn.

Wizard of Oz 
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The Wizard of Oz is another tale of a woman obsessed with fashion. Dorothy changes into her blue and white gingham dress after landing in Oz in order to look nice for her journey, pairing it with the silver shoes that once belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East (the shoes became red for the Technicolor Disney version so that they’d pop on screen). The exhibition also shows an emerald green dress to represent the part of the story where Dorothy gets to the Emerald City and is given several green frocks, all of which fit her perfectly.

Cinderella’s rags

Of course, Cinderella is the original “rags to riches” tale. Ms. Hill points out that Cinderella wore silver and gold to the ball (not pale blue as in the movie rendition) because the metallic fabrics indicated great wealth in the original Charles Perrault 1697 version. Her evil stepsisters were not so ugly either and were said to “cut a striking figure.” Apparently beauty didn’t always equal goodness and ugly didn’t always equal evil as there were “beautiful yet sinister fairies” in tales such as “The Fairies.”

For those of you heartbroken David Bowie fans (myself included) I made one interesting discovery while viewing a display of fairy tale books near the entrance. In the book “Cinderella: A Fashionable Tale” there is an illustration of the iconic Kansai Yamamoto wide legged striped jumpsuit which Bowie famously wore.

– Laurel Marcus

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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