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Exhibitions

strapless bodice in black chiffon over white satin with floor length skirt with layers of black, brown and beige netting gathered into back bustle and forming wide apron front
Ballerina: Fashion's Modern Muse

online exhibition

Ballet is a century’s old art form that consistently reflected and absorbed prevailing fashions. It was not until the interwar years of the twentieth century that ballet took its place in the western pantheon of modern high culture and began to influence many areas of creativity, including fashion. At the same time, the ballerina, the art form’s most celebrated practitioner, blossomed into a revered figure of beauty and glamour, and her signature costume — the corseted tutu — inspired many of fashion’s leading designers for the first time. Organized by Patricia Mears, deputy director of MFIT, Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse illustrates the rise and subsequent influence of classical ballet and ballerinas on high fashion from the early 1930s to the late 1970s.

The popularization of classical ballet during the mid-century owes much to the British and Americans. A French creation that was elevated to a supreme art form in Imperial Russian, classical ballet would become the most popular performing art in the United Kingdom during the 1930s and 1940s, and later, the United States. At its peak, from the early 1930s to mid-century, haute couture looked to classical ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty for aesthetic inspiration. Modern ballets performed in leotards and tights would also influence mid-century American activewear fashions.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book published by Vendome Press. Contributors include Patricia Mears, Laura Jacobs, Joel Lobenthal, Jane Pritchard, and Rosemary Harden.

Read more about Ballerina.

Image: Charles James ballgown, silk chiffon, satin, netting, and boning1954-1955, USA, gift of Robert Wells in memory of Lisa Kirk.

black jacket with words painted in red, yellow, and white
Power Mode: The Force of Fashion

online exhibition

Power is part identity, part behavior, and part physicality. The way we outfit ourselves can play an outsized role in conveying power to others - whether it be the pink “pussy hats” at the 2017 Women’s March or the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coordinated Thom Browne suits during the 2018 NBA playoffs. However, power is not easily defined. It is political position and economic status, but also military strength, sexual authority, rebellion, and protest. Each form of power has found sartorial expression in a variety of ways, from gray flannel suits to latex fetish wear, and from gilded brocades to distressed jeans.
 
Power Mode: The Force of Fashion explores the role fashion plays in establishing, reinforcing, and challenging power dynamics within society. It includes both men’s and women’s clothing from the 18th century to the present, organized thematically to concentrate on five categories: military, suits, status, rebellion, and sex. Each section investigates how certain designs and garments have come to be culturally associated with power, as well as how their meanings have evolved over time. The exhibition also examines how fashion designers have interpreted these stylistic archetypes — both to convey and to subvert power.
 
Read more about Power Mode.
 
Image: Pyer Moss by Kerby Jean-Raymond, jacket, fall 2015, USA, gift of Pyer Moss.
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