Fashion & Textile History Gallery
May 22 – November 16, 2013
Even a cursory examination of contemporary design reveals a strong tendency to borrow
from the past. Yet, the reinterpretation of historical silhouettes or details is far
from a modern phenomenon. Women of the early 1910s wore gowns that drew on popular
fashions a century earlier, for example, and women in the midst of a Victoriana craze
in the 1930s found that dresses with gigot sleeves, crinolines, and bustles were once again fashionable. RetroSpective examined fashions fascination with its own history by presenting an overview of historical
references in fashion, paying particular attention to recurrence of silhouette.
Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Haute Couture, evening dress, painted silk chiffon,
Fall/Winter 1999, France, gift of Susan Gutfreund.
Walter Van Beirendonck, mans ensemble, raffia, white organdy, orange cotton, and multicolor
embroidery, Summer 2006, Belgium, gift of Walter Van Beirendonck.
Anna Sui, ensemble, floral embroidered blue and gold shot silk taffeta, velvet, cord,
beaded denim, 1999-2000, USA, gift of Anna Sui.
The exhibition opened with designs inspired by the distant past: civilizations, such
as Ancient Egypt, Greece, or Byzantium, and historical periods, such as the Elizabethan
era, prior to the 18th century. Featured objects included a classically-inspired Madame
Gres pleated gown from 1944, the soft drape evoking the fluting of a Grecian column;
an opulent Yves Saint Laurent evening dress from Fall 1966 with jeweled collar and
cuffs reminiscent of Byzantine adornment; and 1999 painted silk chiffon gown by Alexander
McQueen for Givenchy Couture, referencing 16th-century English history.
The remainder of the exhibition explored groupings of period fashions and their more
recent reincarnations, spanning 250 years of fashion, beginning with the 18th century.
A 2006 raffia suit by Walter Van Beirendonck was paired with the type of elaborate
18th-century menswear that inspired its shape and decoration. Women's wear examples
looked at recurrences of the 18th-century pannier silhouette, which was revived as
early as the 1920s in the form of dresses called robe de styles.
The large gigot sleeves that were fashionable in the 1830s and 1890s have also made numerous resurgences
in fashion. Yves Saint Laurent displayed them on his lavish evening dress from circa
1980, creating an effect almost identical to the sleeves on a green silk 1830s dress
with which it was juxtaposed.
Yoshiki Hishinuma, evening dress, white and fuchsia polyester, cage crinoline with
nylon, Fall 1996, Japan, gift of Yoshiki Hishinuma.
Nicolas Ghesquire for Balenciaga, dress, printed canvas, wool or cotton knit, Fall
2004, France, gift of Balenciaga.
Elsa Schiaparelli, evening dress, black and bronze shot silk taffeta, circa 1939,
France, courtesy of Mrs. Michael Blankfort.
Petticoats and metal-hooped cage crinolines were two ways in which mid-19th-century
women supported the expansive skirts then in fashion. About a century later, the eras
dominant silhouette, an hourglass, was once again desirable in fashion. The trend
for small waists and full skirts was illustrated by a cocktail dress, circa 1950,
from Anne Fogarty, who favored the wearing of layers of petticoats. Japanese designer
Yoshiki Hishinuma blended East and West with his nod to mid-19th-century fashion,
and Olivier Theyskens for Rochas used the elements of crinoline undergarments as exterior
Of late, revivals seem to have quickened pace. In the book Retro: The Culture of Revival, design scholar Elizabeth Guffey observed that since World War II, there has been
a popular thirst for recovery of earlier, and yet still modern, periods at an ever-accelerating
rate. Illustrative of this phenomenon was a Nicolas Ghesquire dress for the house
of Balenciaga from fall 2004 which makes reference to fashions of only two decades
earlier. Most recently, the recurrence of grunge, which originated in the early 1990s,
has prompted renewed interest in the cycles of revival.
The past, whether far removed or only decades ago, continues to fascinate scholars,
students, and designers. Historical silhouettes and details provide rich territory
for reinterpretation and even innovation. Cutting-edge designer Yohji Yamamotoun,
abashed in his love of the history of couture fashions, once said that going to the
future means you have to use your past. His work, and that of the other designers
featured in RetroSpective, demonstrated that repeating history is an integral part not only of fashions past,
but also its future.
RetroSpective was organized by Jennifer Farley, with textiles by Lynn Weidner and accessories by
Colleen Hill. All objects in the exhibition were from The Museum at FIT's collection.