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Fashion and Technology Exhibition


The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) presents Fashion and Technology, a new exhibition in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery that examines how fashion has engaged withand been altered bytechnological advancements throughout history. Time and again, fashions dynamic relationship with technology has both expanded its aesthetic vocabulary and pushed the industry forward by streamlining production.

Fashion and Technology features more than 100 objects from the museums costume, accessory, and textile collections. Spanning 250 years, the exhibition is displayed in chronological order. 

Purple dress from 1860 Pierre Cardin dress 1968

Afternoon dress, purple and black silk taffeta using synthetic analine dye, circa 1860, England

Pierre Cardin, dress, fuchsia Cardine textile with molded 3D shapes, 1968, USA

With a focus on technological innovations that have had an impact on the production, materials, aesthetics, and function of fashion, Fashion and Technology includes objects as diverse as an afternoon dress, circa 1860, produced using synthetic dyes that resist fading, and Pierre Cardin's seamless dress from 1968 that showcases his pioneering Cardine textile, which can be permanently molded into three-dimensional forms. Also on view is Jean Paul Gaultier's 1996 jumpsuit that utilizes the aesthetic of the Cyber Age as a decorative motif, and the LilyPad Arduino circuit board, which allows designers to push the function of clothing further by integrating smart electronics directly into their garments. 

LilyPad Arduino, circuitboard, 2007

LilyPad Arduino, circuitboard, 2007, USA
Photograph courtesy of Leah Buechley

The exhibition has a variety of interactive components. Four iPads have a Twitter feed (#fashiontech) and an interactive timeline of the exhibition that allows visitors to see detailed views of the objects on display. There is also an iPad app by Max Mara that corresponds to one of the objects in the exhibition and has an interactive Rubik's cube game on it. Videos give additional information about objects on view, as well as periods in fashion history that relate to the exhibition. Fashion and Technology culminates with a video about developing fashion and technology projects.

The interactive aspects of the exhibition will continue beyond the installation on an exhibition website, which will launch shortly. This website will include an interactive timeline that will allow users to comment on their favorite objects and share links to social media networking sites. The website will also include useful links, videos, and a glossary of terms.

A cross-section view of the current interplay between fashion and technology introduces the exhibition. A video of Burberry's 2011 holographic runway show is projected, life-size, alongside a monitor featuring a live Twitter feed, while iPads offer direct access to the exhibition website. Fashions on view in this room include an ensemble by the Dutch design studio Freedom of Creation that was fabricated using cutting-edge, 3D technology that employs a computer-controlled laser to seamlessly sculpt the garment layer by layer. This dress and matching bag were produced specifically for The Museum at FIT, making MFIT the first museum to accept a 3D-printed textile into its permanent collection.

The exhibition chronology begins with an investigation into the industrial innovations of the 18th and 19th centuries. These include the development of the knitting machine, sewing machine, and jacquard loom. The oldest piece on view in Fashion & Technology is a men's machine-knit coat and knickers ensemble from 1780-1800. This ensemble shows the close fit that was achievable using the newly mechanized knitting process. Also on view in this section is a wedding dress from 1866 that uses both machine and hand stitching. A video that accompanies this ensemble provides visitors with an in-depth look at how the new machine-made stitches were used, plus show why some details were still left to hand work.

During this period, designers had also begun to experiment with new plastics, such as celluloid, which they were manipulating to mimic a variety of luxury materials. Examples of an ivory fan and tortoise hairpin that date from the late 19th century show how these faux materials made luxury items affordable to a wider socioeconomic group than ever before. 

Charles James evening dress, 1955

Charles James dress zipper detail

Charles James, evening dress, black velvet, green satin, circa 1955, USA Detail of zipper from Charles James dress

A series of garments and accessories from the early 20th century feature innovations in rubber and plastics, including a circa 1937 evening suit made of strips of cellophane knitted together with wool, alongside futuristic designs of the Art Deco movement. The Art Deco movement developed a heavily geometric visual vocabulary to express the technological changes occurring at the time. This aesthetic was quickly adapted to clothing and textiles, as seen in a jacket, from 1926-1929, decorated with a futuristic skyline of skyscrapers and zeppelins.

In the 1930s, new innovations in zipper technology allowed high-end designers to incorporate this modern closure into their work. Couturier Elsa Schiaparelli began incorporating plastic zippers as decoration in her designs to such an extent that the zipper became a signature element in her aesthetic. The exhibition includes a Schiaparelli day dress, circa 1933. By way of contrast, this dress is juxtaposed with a Charles James evening dress into which James skillfully incorporated a spiral zipper, thus adding complexity to its construction. Beyond the zipper, designers began incorporating hardware atypical to fashion in their work, such as an electric plug and socket that were used for the closure of a women's clutch, also on view in the show.

During World War II, fashions engagement with technology became focused on the popularization of synthetic materials, such as rayon. This is represented by a 1944 rayon suit by Adrian.

In the second half of the 20th century, technological innovations as diverse as space travel and the at-home washing machine influenced designers on both sides of the Atlantic. European designers such as Emilio Pucci, Paco Rabanne, Andre Courrèges, and Pierre Cardin cited the space race as a primary inspiration for their plethora of new youthful fashions. Examples from all of these designers are on view, including a black-and-white jumpsuit by Pucci, circa 1960, made from his revolutionary elasticized silk shantung material, which he dubbed Emilioform. American sportswear designer Claire McCardell looked closer to home when she engineered her garments in order to ensure they would be safe for the washing machine. A McCardell ensemble from 1956 also is included in the show.

In the 1970s, new innovations in knitting production allowed companies like Missoni to create complicated color combinations, displayed in a suit from 1975. Similarly, the Dutch textile studio Larsen pushed the boundaries of textile production with giant looms that were able to create shockingly wide, ten-foot panels of fabric. As the decade drew to a close, a new body-conscious silhouette became a hallmark. A piece by Thierry Mugler from 1979 shows how the designer was able to infuse this new look with a futuristic aesthetic through his use of heavily reflective silver lam. 

Thierry Mugler silver lame evening dress,1979

Yoshiki Hishinuma dress 1999

Prada green silk twill print, 2008

Thierry Mugler, evening dress, silver metallic lam, c. 1979, France Yoshiki Hishinuma, dress, black sheer polyester/polyurethane, fall 1999-00, Japan Prada, ensemble, green silk twill with multicolor print, spring 2008, Italy

During the 1980s, Japanese textile designers conducted ground-breaking experiments with new materials and techniques. Issey Miyake collaborated with textile designers such as Junichi Arai to create unique blends of materials. This part of the exhibition features examples from both Miyake and Arai, alongside younger Japanese designers such as Hishinuma, who combined synthetic materials with a heating process to achieve the sharp points and rubberized look in his dress from autumn/winter 2000.

The introduction of the internet in the early 1990s inspired a new wave of designers, from Jean Paul Gaultier, who created his cyber jumpsuit in 1996, to Helmut Lang, who debuted the first internet runway show in 1998. As the new millennium began, cutting-edge companies like Zibetti e Orsini and Infineon Technologies, both of which are represented in the exhibition, went even further, by wiring jackets with LEDs and mp3 devices to alter and enhance their function.

The final section of Fashion and Technology explores a range of ways in which technological developments manifest in contemporary fashion. From e-textiles and computer design software to social media networking and the increased speed of global communication, the effects of technology on fashion today are far-reaching. Among the garments shown are a stunning example from Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquire. This dress fuses innovative materials and means of production with the traditional techniques of French haute couture. Also on view are examples from Prabal Gurung and the Italian design company Prada, which illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of technological fashions. Designers today are collaborating with a diverse range of artists, scientists, and engineers to create clothing that pushes the boundaries of fashion further than ever before. This new wave of so-called technofashion is challenging the way we engage with clothing and how fashion itself functions within society.

Fashion and Technology is organized by Ariele Elia and Emma McClendon, along with Colleen Hill and Lynn Weidner. The exhibition is on view from December 4, 2012, through May 8, 2013, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT.

The Fashion and Textile History Gallery presents biannual exhibitions examining aspects of the past 250 years of fashion. Exhibitions are curated exclusively from The Museum at FIT's extensive collection.

A Fashion Museum
The Museum at FIT, which is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, 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 The New York Times has described 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 museums mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit fitnyc.edu/museum.

The museum is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a State University of New York (SUNY) college of art, design, business, and technology that has been at the crossroads of commerce and creativity for nearly 70 years. With programs that blend hands-on practice, a strong grounding in theory, and a broad-based liberal arts foundation, FIT offers career education in more than 45 areas, and grants associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. FIT provides students with a complete college experience at an affordable cost, a vibrant campus life in New York City, and industry-relevant preparation for rewarding careers.

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 every September. For information on the Couture Council, call 212 217.4532 or email [email protected].

Museum Hours:
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Saturday 10 am-5 pm
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays

Admission is free and open to the public.