The Fabric in Fashion exhibition at the Museum at FIT through May 11 makes a good point – people today do not pay much attention to the fabric in their clothing, but that’s a break with the consumer culture of the last several centuries.
Fabric telegraphed what status you had, what season it was, and how much money you might have spent on a fabulous outfit. In a clever twist, the show opens with a muslin dress in a period shape lit with all types of cross-cultural patterns and images, evoking fancy French, African, and American textiles.
FIT shines a light how traditional fabric and synthetic creations have been used in high fashion since the 18th century, starting with the stories of wool, silk, and cotton.
Dresses from the FIT archives demonstrate the extreme flexibility of wool, which has been spun and woven since ancient times. Some wool fabrics are as light as silk, while others are molded, shaped, and bonded to create architectural forms that were as right for 19th-century women’s sportswear as they were for Carnaby Street.
The silk ensembles selected from the FIT archives show off a wide range of that fabric’s ability to drape, shape, and burst into dramatic architectural forms when buttressed by the right underlining and interfacing. The show features silky satiny wedding attire, embellished damask gowns, stamped and gilded silk velvet Fortuny masterpieces, and sculpted Schiaparellis – demonstrating how a silk’s weight is key to its potential use.
Side-by-side Claire McCardell dresses show how a single cut (in this case, her ubiquitous “popover” design) can be casually chic in cotton or elegant in silk. Jersey dresses and synthetics – rayon and even Nike’s Flyknight by Wang – are featured, telling the story of how knits and synthetic went mass market by the 1970s.
Couture fabrics and innovative weaves, however, steal the show. An elaborate 1859 silk dress showcases how a single width of ottoman fabric morphs into velvet and fringe. It may not be to the taste of a contemporary eye, but is a true masterpiece of fabrication.
You are able to take a close-up look of how a strip of artfully printed metallic satin enhances a silk velvet Fortuny from the Thirties.
Then turn to examine the high art of fabric from French fashion houses of the Fifties — Bob Bugnand’s matching silk faille dress and mink-trimmed coat and Jacques Griffe’s evening vision in Lurex jacquard.
But all the high-end fabric isn’t flashy. A standout is the austere, minimal evening cape, created from gazar silk developed by the Swiss textile house of Abraham specifically for Balenciaga – a key ingredient to the stunning architectural shapes for which the house was known in the Sixties.
Watch here to observe FIT’s behind-the-scenes work to make all the fabric exhibition magic happen:
Enjoy a glimpse of the multimedia that opens the show!