I travel to NYC for business quite a bit. But I never seem to have a moment to be able to visit my favorite places. So when I decided to attend the Brooklyn Design & Fashion Accelerator’s Positive Impact Awards, I was hell-bent on making time to see the Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I have to admit that I am a bit spoiled. Having access to the Smithsonian at any given moment on almost any day of the year without a lot of fuss is wonderful. Even during the peak summer season, it’s doable. But entering the MoMA and working your way through the buzzing maze of visitors, guards, museum workers, and patrons was overwhelming. I almost had a panic attack. Not to mention that I was asked on EVERY SINGLE FLOOR to show my ticket. I know that there had been a terror attack a few days earlier. But New Yorkers are beyond resilient. So it was a little surprising to feel like I was on lock down. I kept saying to myself that it would’ve been totally reasonable to slap a wristband on me and send me on my merry way. But I digress.
I’ve been planning this visit. So I worked extremely hard to control my claustrophobic anxiety. I needed to breathe and focus on the big picture. I couldn’t let the cacophonous noise and blithesome swishing about and hurricane-like swirling around to disorient me. I had to get myself together. So I quietly and slowly moved towards the elevator. This is the slowest elevator in NYC. Maybe I exaggerate. But it felt that way. Finally the doors part. I’m riding up in the packed elevator. Despite my complete and utter distaste for elevators, I started to get happy. It rings for my floor. I’m finally on the sixth floor and this glorious exhibit awaits. It’s the MoMa’s first fashion exhibition in 73 years. Not sure what on Earth took them so long to figure out that a fashion exhibit was long overdue. Items: Is Fashion Modern? was curated by Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Modern’s architecture and design department, and Michelle Millar Fisher, a curatorial assistant. What brave souls.
Welcoming you inside is a list of the 111 items that will be standing peacefully, begging to be explored, admired, and coveted. I quickly bypass that list. It doesn’t excite me at all. I needed to fill my eyes up with beauty. As I started to walk through the exhibit I was not disappointed. It was expansive—spanning the entire sixth floor. There were the little black dresses by Coco (Chanel) and Christian (Dior) and Hubert (de Givenchy), with a window into the world of undergarments perched close by, including the “Seated Pantyhose” by Welsh-born designer Lucy Jones (commissioned for the exhibition). I got a brief history lesson about Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin and her pioneering shift dress for the modern woman expecting her little bundle of joy (sold by her company, Lane Bryant). Look at Lane Bryant now! There was a sprinkling of the creative genius of Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons (from the Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body collection) with a helping of the brilliant Thierry Mugler’s exquisite little black dress, or the show-stopping fiercely red “A-POC Queen” (for A Piece of Cloth), given life by Issey Miyake and his designer Fujiwara Dai, from a single tube of knit fabric.
You cannot have a fashion exhibition without considering shoes. Shoes are the most democratic items in fashion’s history. Shoes do not care what color you are, what size you wear, or your political views. Shoes just are. To me, shoes should be the best part of your outfit. The Tabi Boot from Maison Martin Margiela was delightfully present in its single-toed variations. Blasts from the platform past of stacked high heels for tapping piano pedals during “Philadelphia Freedom” (a pair of Sir Elton John’s silver platform boots) or for brave models gracefully maneuvering the runway in Armadillo shoes (the 10-inch Armadillo shoes from the Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2010 runway show). The very popular Moon boots by Tecnica and Dr. Martens were all the rage during my very, very young fashion days. Not to be upstaged, Stilettos from Jimmy Choo, Manolo, Louboutin, and the ultimate pair from Roger Vivier (1954).
There was the evolution of the suit from the Zoot Suit to Armani. The little known history (and correct spelling) of the bandanna, chronicling its paisley print journey from India to America. As streetwear goes, there was a hurrah to the infamous Dapper Dan and high fives to sports icons Adidas and Converse. There was the Champion hoodie that brought me to tears. I will never understand how a simple piece of athletic wear could be so misconstrued. Could be deadly. Sigh.
I was impressed that cultural garb had an equally important place in the exhibit as the LBD or an Armani suit. There were saris from India, hijabs and head wraps, dashikis from Nigeria, Kente cloth from Ghana, the traditional Guayabera shirt from Cuba, silk dresses in traditional Chinese silhouettes, with a Burkini juxtaposed against the American bikini and its male counterpart, the Speedo. Numerous kippahs were arranged cleverly on the wall. In a single box, stood the Turkish jupe-culotte (or Harem Pants) by the master Paul Poiret, simply oozing the aura of luxurious silk and velvet and silver and rubber. I wanted to touch it but that, of course, is not allowed.
The much-appreciated, optimistic nod to future garments included the glowing Prototype by XO and the Skirt & Belt made from cellulose fiber and the Kinematics Dress created using a 3D printer, just to name a few future fashion possibilities. There were plenty of items from all walks of the global life to aptly whet your palette. The future of fashion seems bright.
Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition at the MoMa ended on January 28, 2018.