Hoops! I Did It Again…

We all know that everything old is new again, borrowing is nothing new, and history always repeats itself;  especially where fashion is concerned. But that doesn’t mean those elements do not make for a worthwhile, informative, and highly visual fashion exhibition. To wit, “RetroSpective”, on view at The Museum at FIT,   May 22, 2013 – November 16, 2013.
Shaped undergarments – Robe a l’anglaise 1765 & Balmain 1951

This exhibition examines fashion’s fascination with its own history; it illustrates the way in which designers are inspired by historical silhouettes; and most importantly, the way they “use past trends as a point of reference — adapting and interpreting them in order to modernize historical silhouettes and details”. It is comprised  of 100 garments, accessories, and textiles,  features a small selection of garments inspired by ancient civilizations including Egypt and Greece, in addition to particular eras in history such as the Middle Ages, and the remainder features period fashions beginning with the 18th century, paired with their more recent revivals.

1990’s Grunge & Punk Mike Bidlo 1982, Balenciaga 2004, Stephen Sprouse 1985, Anna Sui 1993

Yesterday morning, I attended the press preview during which time the curator, Jennifer Farley, was present to answer questions. She explained that it is in semi chronological order beginning with the 18th century, and ending with grunge and punk. We can’t seem to  get away from grunge and punk these days, can we?! From beginning to end, within the multi media installation, there are compelling examples which illustrate a number of themes. We can see how designers have been inspired by ancient Greece and Egypt. A Norell mermaid dress with a bejeweled collar, 1971, is displayed next to a Madame Gres pleated Grecian style column from 1949 column, and a jeweled Yves Saint Laurent evening dress, 1966,  that recalled the Byzantine empire.

Exaggeratedly shaped dress by Lanvin 1923 & Agatha Ruiz de la Prada 2009

The art deco, flapper-esque 20’s, which could not be more ‘of the moment’ thanks to the recent release of ‘The Great Gatsby’, are represented by a group of dresses by Lenief Couture,1925, Dior,1961, Norell, 1965, Ozbek, 1986, and Carolyne Roehm, 1988, as well as cloche hats dating from 1929 – 1999. The strong tailoring of the 40’s (chic jackets with nipped in waists by such as Bill Blass and Saint Laurent) are standing next to the youthful if not risque for their times hot pants that defined the 70’s (in the case of the latter, a non labeled play suit from 1938 was displayed next to an Ayaka vest and hot pants from 1970, and a  Katherine Hamnett ensemble from 1993). An ethereal Pierre Balmain silk, organdy, net, and nylon gown, 1948 was placed next to a Marc Jacobs evening dress from 2008, and indeed, it was hard to tell which was which.

1920’s cloche hats & dresses by Lenief 1925, Dior 1961
and Carolyne Roehm 1988

And in a season when grunge and punk are on everyone’s minds (I almost want to say ‘enough’ already LOL), the show closes with some good examples (I guess the Costume Institute did not get them all): a suit by Mike Bidlo,1982; a graffiti printed dress by Balenciaga by Nicolas Guesquiere, 2004; Stephen Sprouse’s graffiti printed leggings, 1985; an Anna Sui ensemble, 1993; and Dries Van Noten’s chic grunge plaid two piece, from 2013.

Bustles through the years

But hands down the most highly visual grouping was to be found smack dab in the middle of the exhibit: a display consisting of the exaggerated shapes of bustles, cage crinolines, corsets, bustiers, and panniers. Not surprising, when I asked Ms. Farley, who observed that the focus of the exhibit was on shape and silhouette, what her favorite part of the exhibit is, she led me straight to this area. She perfectly illustrated her point by juxtaposing an authentic metal and wire bustle dress form by Hall Bustle and Hall Corchert, 1887, next to an Anna Sui ensemble, 1999-2000, a Carolina Herrera cocktail dress, 1988, and a Schiaparelli gown, all with bustles in one form or another. Across the aisle, two short dresses with exaggeratedly full skirts by Lanvin, 1923, and Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, 2009, were beside a traditional robe a l’anglaise, 1765, and a long gown by Balmain, 1951.

Yoshiki Hishinuma 1996 & Thom Browne 2013
Perhaps most compelling was the installation comprised of a collapsible skirt hoop from 1950; a divine Hoshiki Hishinuma die dye evening dress, 1996, with an exaggeratedly full skirt inspired by cage crinolines found in the mid 19th century; a full skirted and corseted Olivier Theyskens for Rochas wedding gown; and her favorite outfit (and the hands down show stopper) Thom Browne’s madras plaid pantsuit with an architectural cage crinoline on the outside, from fall 2013. FYI, Ms. Farley herself, chose a lovely vintage dress with a small floral print for the occasion, and not a dress with a bustle or panier.

– 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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