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Fashion and Technology

Fashion and Technology
Fashion & Textile History Gallery
December 4, 2012 – May 8, 2013
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Fashion and technology have a fast-paced and continually evolving relationship. Today, the term “techno-fashion” is used to refer to a predominantly 21st-century phenomenon, but technological advancements were shaping fashion design and fabrication as early as the mid-eighteenth century. As fashion writer Bradley Quinn observes, “Technology has always been the essence of fashion...The fast-paced progress of technology complements fashion’s ever-evolving aesthetic, and each gives the other a wider frame of reference and more scope to explore new horizons.”

Prada ensemble Mugler at Museum at FIT Hishinuma  at Museum at FIT
Prada, ensemble, green silk twill with multicolor print, spring 2008, Italy, gift of Prada. Thierry Mugler, evening dress, silver metallic lamé, c. 1979, France, gift of Clarins Fragrance Group/Thierry Mugler Perfume. Yoshiki Hishinuma, dress, black sheer polyester/polyurethane, fall 1999-00, Japan, gift of Hishinuma Associates Co., Ltd.

Fashion and Technology explored the impact of emerging technologies on the nature of fashion design and production over the past 250 years. The exhibition focused on innovations that have influenced the production, materials, aesthetic, and function of fashion. It began with objects created during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, when innovations in textile manufacturing revolutionized the fashion industry. These innovations included the introduction of the Spinning Jenny, the Jacquard loom, and the sewing machine. The exhibition then continued chronologically to the present day.

In the first decades of the 20th century, technology rapidly transformed the urban landscape, exemplified by the tall buildings that began to rise, nicknamed “skyscrapers.” As a way to express these technological changes, the Art Deco movement introduced a heavily geometric aesthetic to art and design, which crossed over into fashion in the form of decorative motifs. Innovations in rubber and plastic also found a variety of applications in fashionable items that include athletic shoes and eveningwear.

1860 dress at Museum at FIT Deco jacket at Museum at FIT Clutch at Museum at FIT
Afternoon dress, purple and black silk taffeta using synthetic analine dye, c.1860, England, museum Purchase. Jacket, printed with engineered Art Deco design of skyscrapers, black silk crepe, c.1926-29, USA, museum purchase. Clutch, black leather, red plastic, electrical plug and outlet closure, 1935-45, USA, museum purchase.

Following World War II, fashion’s engagement with technology surged again. Parisian couturiers Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges cited the Space Race as a primary inspiration for their new, youthful fashions. With the first men orbiting the earth in 1961, it seemed apparent to these 1960s designers that an era of recreational space travel was just around the corner. Therefore, they created looks that the fashionable woman could wear on a jaunt to outer-space.

In the late 20th century, the rapid spread of personal computers and the introduction of the internet transformed culture. The impact of this transformation on fashion was felt when designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier turned to “cyber space” for aesthetic inspiration, and software programs like Computer Aided Design (CAD) and computer-operated Jacquard looms began to alter the ways garments were produced.

Cardin at Museum at FIT Gaultier at Museum at FIT Charles James at Museum at FIT
Pierre Cardin, dress, fuchsia “Cardine” textile with molded 3D shapes, 1968, USA, gift of Lauren Bacall. Jean Paul Gaultier, jumpsuit, multicolored nylon and spandex with Op-Art cyber graphic print, 1996, France, museum purchase. Charles James, evening dress, black velvet, green satin, circa 1955, USA, gift of Robert Wells In Memory of Lisa Kirk.

Digital technology continues to transform the promotion, fabrication, and basic design of fashion. From 3-D printing to advancements in sewable electronics, designers are creating garments that can play music, answer telephone calls, and even monitor the wearer’s heartbeat. In recent years, social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have been redefining the limits of fashion branding.

The interplay of digital technology and fashion has only just begun. As fashion designer Hussein Chalayan has said, fashion “will renew itself through technology, new fibers, new ways of making clothes. Without risk, nothing changes the world.”

Fashion & Technology was organized by Ariele Elia and Emma McClendon.

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