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American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion

Loretta Lawrence Keane, Vice President for Advancement and External Relations
Cheri Fein, Executive Director of Public and Media Relations 212 217.4700

On view November 6, 2009 - April 10, 2010

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) presents American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion, the first exhibition to explore how the "philosophy of beauty" is allied to the craft of dressmaking. Each of the 75 looks on display was chosen to exemplify the relationship between technical ingenuity and artistic excellence. Curator Patricia Mears has focused on 31 American fashion designers, ranging from the obscure, such as Jessie Franklin Turner, whose work dates from the late 1910s, to rising stars of the present day, such as the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte. Other designers featured include Adrian, Bonnie Cashin, Maria Cornejo, James Galanos, Halston, Elizabeth Hawes, Charles James, Charles Kleibacker, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell, Rick Owens, Ralph Rucci, Isabel Toledo, Pauline Trigre, Valentina, Yeohlee, and Jean Yu. 

halston gown McCardell, evening dress Trigre, evening coat
Halston, American Beauty Rose gown in red silk organza, 1980. Photograph: William Palmer. Claire McCardell, evening dress in black crepe faille, circa 1939. Photograph: Irving Solero. Pauline Trigre, evening coat in cream wool, 1969. Photograph: William Palmer.

"The garments in American Beauty are connected by one overriding criterion: They have all been created by designers who utilized the craft of dressmaking as the point of departure to create beautiful, wearable objects," said Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at FIT. "This focus on construction further illustrates that each designer's method of attaining innovative shapes and forms could only have come about because craft was the central focus of the creative process. While this exhibition most definitely is not a retrospective, the range of clothing types included in American Beauty is comprehensive in that it includes both high- and low-priced fashion from the past 100 years of American fashion." 

cornejo dress Hawes, evening dress Yeohlee, wedding gown
Maria Cornejo, One dress in felted grey wool, 2003. Photograph: William Palmer. Elizabeth Hawes, evening dress in lavender, violet, and ivory striped silk brocade, 1936. Photograph: Irving Solero. Yeohlee, wedding gown, spring 2007. Photograph: William Palmer.
rucci gown Valentina, dinner dress james evening dress
Ralph Rucci, Infanta gown in graphite gray duchesse satin, fall 2004. Photograph: William Palmer. Valentina, dinner dress in beige silk and chiffon, circa 1938. Photograph: William Palmer. Collection of Beverley Birks. Charles James, Tree evening dress in pale pink silk taffeta, 1955. Photograph: Irving Solero.

American Beauty includes such dressmaking disciplines as draping, geometric forms, tailoring, and rigid construction from a broad spectrum of clothing styles, including daywear, suits, evening gowns, and active wear. The link between aesthetics and innovation will further be explored by illustrating the diversity of creative styles in the United States, from highly functional and economical ready-to-wear garments to elaborate couture creations and Hollywood costumes. The exhibition will be designed by Charles B. Froom. 

adrian gown Kleibacker, evening caftan dress Rodarte, evening dress
Adrian for MGM, gown for Joan Crawford in The Bride Wore Red in red pave bugle beads, gold beads, red crepe, 1937. Photograph: Irving Solero. Charles Kleibacker, evening caftan dress in white nylon jersey, 1969. Photograph: Irving Solero. Rodarte, evening dress (back view) in steam dyed silk tulle, black mohair yarn, fall 2008. Photograph: William Palmer.

A lavishly illustrated book, also called American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion will be published by Yale University Press, with proceeds going to the Fashion Institute of Technology. A wide range of public programs, including free lectures and tours, will accompany the exhibition. For a program of events, call 212 217.4585 or email

Yu, dress Trigre,cloque dress and coat Yeohlee dress
Jean Yu, dress in white jersey with black grosgrain ribbon, circa 2006. Photograph: William Palmer. Pauline Trigre,cloque dress and coat, in navy blue and white cotton, circa 1964. Photograph: William Palmer. Collection of Beverley Birks. Yeohlee, Bellows dress in grey silk, fall 2007. Photograph: William Palmer., the online resource for antique and vintage design, is a main sponsor of the exhibition, American Beauty, and the American Style symposium. Throughout the run of the show, 1stdibs will present editorial features on its website, including exhibition coverage and a book review, interviews with exhibition designer Charles B. Froom, and an exclusive conversation with museum director, Dr. Valerie Steele, about MFIT's permanent collections.

The Coby Foundation, a New York-based organization that supports exhibitions and educational programming that combine excellent scholarship and effective interpretation of the needle arts, including fashion, is providing additional support for the exhibition and symposium. In particular, The Coby Foundation is making it possible for students to attend the symposium without charge., the online fashion retailer, is the museum's media partner for American Beauty. The site will post a virtual tour of the exhibition and unique online content including a video with curator Patricia Mears discussing garments included in the exhibition. also will produce an insider's view of the detail and construction of featured objects, such as the interior of Charles James's magnificent evening gowns, Adrian's complex tailored suits, and Halston's geometrically-cut evening wear.

The Museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion. Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, which have been described by Roberta Smith in The New York Times as "ravishing," the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. Like other fashion museums, such as the Muse de la Mode, the Mode Museum, and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion. The museum's mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit

The Museum is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a college of art and design, business and technology, that educates more than 10,000 students annually. FIT is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) and offers more than 44 majors leading to the AAS, BFA, BS, MA, and MPS degrees. Visit

The Couture Council is a membership group of fashion enthusiasts that helps support the exhibitions and programs of The Museum at FIT. The Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is given to a selected designer at a benefit luncheon held in the Rainbow Room every September. For information on the Couture Council, call 212 217.4532 or e-mail

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Admission is free and open to the public.