American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion

Special Exhibitions GalleryNovember 6, 2009 - April 10, 2010
black dresses on some mannequins in the foreground with colorful dresses in the backgroundAmerican Beauty Installation

About the Exhibition

American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion was 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 focused on approximately 25 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 included 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.

coat and dress with navy diagonal stripes

Pauline Trigère, cloqué dress and coat in navy blue and white cotton, circa 1964. Lent by Beverley Birks. Photograph: William Palmer.

gray floor length sleeveless dress

Ralph Rucci, Infanta gown in graphite gray duchesse satin, Fall 2004. Lent by Ralph Rucci. Photograph: William Palmer.

grey dress

Yeohlee, Mercury Bellows dress in grey silk, Fall 2007. Lent by Yeohlee. 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."

American Beauty included 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 were further explored by illustrating highly functional and economical ready-to-wear garments to elaborate couture creations and Hollywood costumes. The exhibition was designed by Charles B. Froom.

layered red silk organza with strapless petal neckline and floor length skirt

Halston, American Beauty Rose gown in red silk organza, 1980. Photograph: William Palmer.

grey dress with back cut out

Maria Cornejo, One dress in felted grey wool, 2003. Photograph: William Palmer.

white jersey floor length sleeveless dress with deep v neck

Jean Yu, dress in white jersey with black grosgrain ribbon, circa 2006. Photograph: William Palmer.

The exhibition concluded with a never-before-exhibited menswear ensemble from the Civilizade collection (Spring/Summer 1989). This bi-colored knit ensemble, with articulated elbow- and kneepads, combined Westwood's interest in medieval heraldry with padding that is usually associated with skateboarding. The outfit underscores Westwood's ability to unite historical costume, street culture, and mainstream fashion elements that continue to be relevant to her work today.

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

-Patricia Mears, MFIT Deputy Director

American Beauty book cover: black and white image of a white woman with the book title as a white text overlay

Exhibition Publication

A lavishly illustrated book, also called American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion, has been published by Yale University Press, with proceeds going to the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Get a copy of the Book
Related Events
Past Event

American Style Symposium

American Style was The Museum at FIT's eighth annual, two-day symposium, held in conjunction with the exhibition American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion. Designers, scholars, authors, and curators discussed fashion of the Americas and explored themes ranging from the diversity of the American fashion industry to the unique characteristics of New York fashion. The symposium also featured conversations with some of the most innovative American designers working today.


American Style was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT., the online resource for antique and vintage design, was a main sponsor of the exhibition, American Beauty, and the American Style symposium (December 2009). 1stdibs presented an exclusive editorial feature on its website throughout the run of the exhibition.

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, provided additional support for the exhibition and symposium (December 2009)., the online fashion retailer, was the museum's media partner for American Beauty. The site had unique online content that included videos with curator Patricia Mears and a number of designers.

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Coby Foundation