The Great Designers: Part One at FIT

Elsa Schiaparelli, dress, printed black rayon, fall 1935, France, gift of Yeffe Kimball Slatin.

The Museum at FIT presents The Great Designers, Part One, the first of two consecutive exhibitions featuring masterpieces from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories. From Alaïa, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Dior to Westwood, Yeohlee, and Zoran, the exhibition will feature approximately 50 garments from many of the most important designers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Elsa Schiaparelli will be represented by a 1935 bias-cut gown inspired by an Indian sari. An evening dress in navy-blue paper silk taffeta by Madame Grès typifies this designer’s dramatic sculptural approach to fashion. Oscar de la Renta’s sense of drama and color is evoked by a 1978 leaf-green and golden-yellow evening ensemble. Miuccia Prada’s prim yet alluring peek-a-boo lace dress, layered over a long cotton shirt, exudes the stylish quirkiness for which her label has become well known.

A number of new acquisitions to The Museum at FIT’s permanent collection will be exhibited for the first time, including an elaborately embroidered black silk coatdress by Alexander McQueen, dating from his time as creative director of Givenchy in the 1990s. The combination of sexuality and theatricality that made Thierry Mugler famous in the 1980s will be seen in his fantastical metallic bustier and fishtail skirt. Another important new acquisition in the exhibition is an elegant evening gown by Valentino, rendered in the designer’s signature shade of bright red and featured in his last-ever couture collection in 2008. The Valentino gown will be shown alongside a Versace suit from 1991, its bold Andy Warhol-inspired print emphasizing the relationship between art and fashion

The Great Designers, Part One will also feature cutting-edge 21st century design. Rick Owens’s batwing jacket and slinky skirt epitomize his moody yet sensuous aesthetic, which has been described as “glamour meets grunge.” A wool dress by Gareth Pugh from his fall 2007 collection is characterized by the dense application of patent leather strips that gives it a feeling of contemporary armor. Also armor-like is a fierce 2006 ensemble from the English label Boudicca, which was featured in the 2006 exhibition, Love & War: The Weaponized Woman. Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, and Boudicca are among today’s fashion avant-garde, tipped to be included in any future list of great designers.

Another 50 fashion masterpieces will be shown in The Great Designers, Part Two, which will be on display at The Museum at FIT from May 23 through November 10, 2012. Among the museum’s recent acquisitions that will be included in The Great Designers, Part Two are an extraordinary dress from Alexander McQueen’s spring 2010 “Plato’s Atlantis” collection, which will be on display at the museum for the first time, and a 2002 evening ensemble by Jean Paul Gaultier. Avant-garde looks will include Martin Margiela’s iconic dress-form jacket and Junya Watanabe’s blue denim dress. Among the historic masterpieces on display will be Charles James’s pale pink “tree dress” and a 1976 evening ensemble by \Yves Saint Laurent.

The Great Designers, Part One and The Great Designers, Part Two will be organized in celebration of The Museum at FIT’s forthcoming book, The Great Designers: Fashion’s Hall of Fame from A to Z, to be published by Taschen in spring 2012. The book will feature color photographs of 500 of the museum’s masterpieces by 100 of history’s greatest fashion designers. A short biography of each of the featured designers will be preceded by an extensive essay on the history of fashion museums and exhibitions by Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT.


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