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RetroSpective: On View at The Museum at FIT in New York City


The Museum at FIT presents RetroSpective, a new exhibition that examines the relationship between fashion and its own history. Current fashions are changing more quickly than ever, and yet, in the constant quest for the next trend, the past is often used as a point of reference. Many designers draw on the past as a fundamental part of their design process. They adapt, interpret, and attempt to modernize historical silhouettes and details that are as disparate as cage crinolines, flapper dresses, and grunge. While undeniably prevalent now, referencing the past is not only a contemporary phenomenon. RetroSpective will demonstrate that it is, in fact, a practice deeply rooted in fashion history.

RetroSpective will begin with examples of fashions inspired by historical periods prior to the eighteenth century, including a 1981 gold lam ensemble by Zandra Rhodes and a 1999 painted silk chiffon gown by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Couture. Both looks evoke sixteenth-century England. Also featured will be a small selection of fashions inspired by ancient civilizations, such as Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as particular eras in history, such as the Middle Ages. 

McQueen evening dress

Walter Van Beirendonck man's ensemble

Norman Norell red wool crepe dress

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.

Norman Norell, dress, red wool crepe and satin, 1962, USA, gift of Claudia Halley.

The remainder of the exhibition will feature period fashions beginning with the eighteenth century grouped with their more recent revivals. A 2006 raffia suit by Walter Van Beirendonck, for instance, will be paired with the type of elaborate eighteenth-century menswear from which it draws inspiration. Women's wear examples will explore recurrences of the eighteenth-century pannier silhouette, which was revived as early as the 1920s in the form of dresses called robe de styles, an example of which will be on display.

A silhouette that has been repeatedly reinterpreted is the high-waisted, or Empire, dress which was popular during the first years of the nineteenth century. It returned a century later in fashionable 1910s adaptations. In 1962, designer Norman Norell again revived the Empire gown. His 1962 Josephine dress will be displayed, along with examples from the 1810s and 1910s.

One result of a craze for Victoriana in the 1930s was the reprisal of nineteenth-century cage crinolines and bustles. The April 26, 1930, issue of Vogue discussed the influence of, among other historical styles, the bustle and the upholstered fashions of the [eighteen-] Eighties. In the exhibition, a 1930s Schiaparelli dress strongly represents this fashion. Also featured will be a more recent example from Anna Sui, who paired a bustle with a bustier and decorated denim jeans. Sui, who has a penchant for historic dress, once said, I like using nostalgic elements and adding things to bring them into this decade. What I love is to capture an old feeling and still have it look good. 

Yoshiki Hishinuma evening dress, 1996

Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, 1939

AnnaSuit ensemble, 1999-2000

Yoshiki Hishinuma, evening dress, white and fuchsia polyester, cage crinoline with nylon, Fall 1996, Japan, gift of Yoshiki Hishinuma. Elsa Schiaparelli, evening dress, black and bronze shot silk taffeta, circa 1939, France, courtesy of Mrs. Michael Blankfort. Anna Sui, ensemble, floral embroidered blue and gold shot silk taffeta, velvet, cord, beaded denim, 1999-2000, USA, gift of Anna Sui.

In 1965, Norman Norell created a collection so reminiscent of the 1920s that The New York Times was forced to ask, Is it Norell or vintage Chanel? An example will be featured, as will other later reinterpretations of 1920s drop-waist or fringed dresses. The exhibition will also feature examples from revivals of 1940s fashion, particularly from the 1970s, as well as designer adaptations of the styles popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

The exhibition will conclude with fashions that reference the last two decades of the twentieth century. A Nicolas Ghesquire dress for the house of Balenciaga from fall 2004 makes a clear connection back to the 1980s downtown graffiti styles of Stephen Sprouse, while the revival of 1990s grunge styles will be represented by a recent runway example.

Exploring historical clothing has always proved rich territory for designers. Innovative and cutting-edge designer Yohji Yamamotoun, abashed in his love of the history of couture fashions like those of Paco Rabanne, 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, will demonstrate that repeating history is an integral part not only of fashions past, but also its future. 

Norman Norell black evening dress, 1965

Pacao Rabanne and Yohji Yamamoto evening dresses

Nicholas Ghesquiere dress, 2004

Norman Norell, evening dress, black wool crepe, rhinestones, circa 1965, USA, gift of Lauren Bacall. Paco Rabanne, dress, plastic and metal, circa 1968, France, gift of Montgomery Ward.

Yohji Yamamoto, evening dress, blue chambray, metal, Spring 2004, Japan, gift of Yohji Yamamoto.

Nicolas Ghesquire for Balenciaga, dress, printed canvas, wool or cotton knit, Fall 2004, France, gift of Balenciaga.

RetroSpective is organized by Jennifer Farley, with textiles by Lynn Weidner and accessories by Colleen Hill. All objects in the exhibition are from The Museum at FIT's collection. The exhibition will be on view from May 22, 2013, through November 16, 2013, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT.

A Fashion Museum
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 museums mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit www.fitnyc.edu/museum.

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 a college of the State University of New York (SUNY) and offers 46 majors leading to the AAS, BFA, BS, MA, MFA, and MPS degrees. Visit www.fitnyc.edu.

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
Tuesday-Friday noon-8 pm
Saturday 10 am-5 pm
Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays

Admission is free and open to the public.