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Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT

Special Exhibitions Gallery
February 8, 2019 – April 20, 2019
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Listen to the Exhibitionism podcast series with original commentary from MFIT curators.

online exhibition

Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT celebrated the 50th anniversary of what Michael Kors calls “the fashion insider’s fashion museum” by bringing back 33 of the most influential exhibitions produced since the first one was staged in 1971. Taken entirely from the museum’s permanent holdings, more than 80 looks were on display. From Fashion and Surrealism to The Corset to A Queer History of Fashion, the exhibitions are known for being “intelligent, innovative, and independent,” says MFIT Director Valerie Steele. “The museum has been in the forefront of fashion curation, with more than 200 fashion exhibitions over the past half century, many accompanied by scholarly books and symposia.”
Founded in 1969 as The Design Laboratory and Galleries at FIT, it became The Museum at FIT in 1994, and was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2012. From the beginning, MFIT served multiple audiences, including students, designers, and the public. In 1971, its first director, Robert Riley, organized a show featuring the work of designer Gilbert Adrian; when MGM heard about it, the company donated costumes that Adrian had created for stars like Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. For his 1976 exhibition on the French couturier Paul Poiret, Riley also acquired important ensembles for the museum’s collection, such as a fantastical “Persian” ensemble worn for a 1919 fancy dress ball.
black silk velvet dress with black tulle ruffles at shoulders and rhinestones and sequins on front
Adrian, dress worn by Greta Garbo in Camille, 1936, USA, gift of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. Featured in Adrian (1971). 70.8.22
crushed silver gauze tunic with attached lavender and silver cummerbund and deep red chiffon trousers. Matching lavender brocade turban edged with pearls and large red feather.
Paul Poiret, fancy dress ensemble, 1919, France, gift of Mrs. Katheryn Colton. Featured in Paul Poiret, King of Fashion (1976). 74.36.29
Fashion and Surrealism, organized in 1987, was another of FIT’s most influential exhibitions. It was organized by Richard Martin, Harold Koda, and Laura Sinderbrand, who also collaborated on exhibitions such as Three Women (1987), featuring Madeleine Vionnet, Clare McCardell, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. When Martin and Koda moved uptown to the Costume Institute, Dorothy Twining Globus took over at MFIT, hiring Steele as chief curator.
black and off white sleeveless mini dress with blow-up photo print of an eye
Harry Gordon, paper dress, 1968, England, gift of Stephen Pietri. Featured in Fashion and Surrealism (1987).
long sleeveless dress in ivory, georgette shapped through torso with pintucked design of roses
Madeleine Vionnet, dress, 1930, France, museum purchase. Featured in Three Women (1987). P83.39.7
bright red silk satin corset with red damask trim at top
Corset, circa 1889, USA. 2009. Featured in The Corset (2001). 2009.15.2
Since 1997, Dr. Valerie Steele has curated a number of thematic exhibitions exploring topics of sexuality, gender, and identity, including The Corset: Fashioning the Body (2001) and Gothic: Dark Glamour (2008). Together with senior curator Fred Dennis, she organized the pioneering exhibition A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk (2013).
bat wing jacket with silver metal zippers in off-black denim with floor length grey skirt
Rick Owens, ensemble, fall 2008, France, gift of Rick Owens. Featured in Gothic: Dark Glamour (2008). 2010.94.1
cropped jacket and mini skirt with multicolor allover Andy Warhol print featuring faces of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean with blue trim
Versace, suit, 1991, Italy. Featured in A Queer History of Fashion (2013). 2010.56.1
MFIT Deputy Director Patricia Mears has gravitated more toward connoisseurship with exhibitions such as Madame Grès,Sphinx of Fashion (2008), and American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion (2009). In 2016, curator Colleen Hill organized the imaginative exhibition Fairy Tale Fashion, which illustrated 15 classic fairy tales using fashions such as an 18th-century red hooded cape.
floor length dress with pleats
Madame Grès, evening gown, 1971, France, gift of Ms. Mica Ertegun. Featured in Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion (2008). 88.74.1
gold sequined camel silk jersey mermaid sleeveless sheath dress and cashmere straightline subway coat with sequined lining

Norman Norell, evening set, circa 1958, USA, gift of Lauren Bacall. Featured in American Beauty (2009). 68.143.6

tabernacle infanta evening dress in amethyst duchesse silk satin with stylized halter neckline and train
Chado Ralph Rucci, Tabernacle Infanta evening gown, fall 2003, USA, gift of Chado Ralph Rucci. Featured in American Beauty (2009). 2005.2.1
long cape in bright red felted wool with attached hood and buttoned front vest
Cape, late 18th century, England. Featured in Fairy Tale Fashion (2016). 2002.36.1
red dress, cape, and detachable hood with red socks and boots
Comme des Garçons, ensemble, spring 2015, Japan. Featured in Fairy Tale Fashion (2016). 2015.8.1
Exhibitionism also featured exhibitions originally displayed in the museum’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery. These included Black Fashion Designers (2016), curated by Ariele Elia and Elizabeth Way; Denim: Fashion’s Frontier (2016) and The Body: Fashion and Physique (2017), curated by Emma McClendon; and Force of Nature (2017), curated by Melissa Marra.
cape in blue and brown with multicolored polka dot and stripe blouse and black pants
Duro Olowu, ensemble, fall 2012, England, gift of Duro Olowu. Featured in Black Fashion Designers (2016). 2016.65.1
light blue denim redingote and mini skirt embroidered with large floral border design
Roberto Cavalli, ensemble, 2002–2003, Italy, gift of Roberto Cavalli. Featured in Denim: Fashion’s Frontier (2016). 2003.45.2
black bustier with padded bra cups and cage overlay; full bried panties with sheer mesh insets at thighs and articulated cage pants
Chromat, ensemble, spring 2015, USA. Featured in The Body: Fashion and Physique (2017). 2017.53.1
short sleeved full length dress with back bustle and train in red and black feather patterned silk jacquard
Alexander McQueen, dress, fall 2009, England. Featured in Force of Nature (2017). 2016.63.1
Fashion Culture Podcast

50 Years of The Museum at FIT: Part One with Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, and Colleen Hill (View Transcript)

50 Years of The Museum at FIT: Part Two with Emma McClendon, Elizabeth Way, and Melissa Marra-Alvarez (View Transcript)
The exhibition was accompanied by a book of the same name, edited by Dr. Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill and published by Skira. Lavishly illustrated with looks from the show and photos of past installations, the book featured essays by MFIT curators that provide greater context for each of the exhibitions featured. The publication was released in February 2019.
Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT.
Coutre Council