Special Exhibitions Gallery
September 15, 2017 – January 6, 2018
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Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme is the first large-scale exhibition of high fashion influenced by clothing made for
survival in the most inhospitable environments on the planet — and off of it. On view
in Expedition are approximately 70 ensembles and accessories from MFIT’s permanent collection,
as well as a compelling selection of objects borrowed from leading museums and private
collections. These garments are presented within dramatically designed “environments”
in the museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery. Collectively, the objects and the exhibition
design evoke both the beauty of extreme wildernesses — on land and sea, as well as
in outer space — and the dangers these locales present to human explorers.
Photograph by John Cowan, 1964
© The John Cowan Archive
Interest in the natural world flourished during the Victorian era. Thanks to the pioneering
works of explorers and naturalists such as Charles Darwin and the wildly popular science
fiction books by Jules Verne, quests to reach the poles, the peaks of the highest
mountains, the depths of the oceans, and even outer space, became increasingly popular,
aspirational endeavors. Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme illustrates the ways in which select items of clothing made for survival on such
journeys of discovery eventually become modern wardrobe mainstays. The parka, for
example, was invented by indigenous Arctic peoples; then, during the “heroic era”
of polar navigation (1890 to 1922), it was appropriated by explorers. Eventually,
the parka was redesigned for sports and the military, before ﬁnally ﬁnding its way
into leading fashion magazines.
Likewise tracing the progression from strictly utilitarian to fashionable, the exhibition
presents an array of down-ﬁlled “puffer” coats — perfected for extreme mountain climbing
— that includes opulent, high-fashion versions created strictly for show. Experimental,
high-tech materials, such as neoprene and Mylar, initially developed for deep sea
and outer space exploration, have also made their way onto the world’s most exclusive
runways and into this exhibition.
Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garçons, ensemble, fall/winter 2004, Japan.
DKNY, dress, 1994, USA. Gift of DKNY.
Waste Basket Boutique by Mars of Asheville, dresses, circa 1966, USA. Gift of Ruth
Ford and Mrs. D.J. White. Coat, 1966, USA. Gift of Montgomery Ward.
In Expedition’s introductory gallery, a diorama depicting the plains of the Serengeti serves as a
backdrop for a range of safari clothing. Safaris were the ﬁrst expedition destinations
to be marketed speciﬁcally to the well-heeled traveler, and the clothing created for
these excursions would inﬂuence fashion designers for decades. A juxtaposition of
ensembles — from a circa 1916 women’s safari suit by Abercrombie and Fitch to safari-inspired
tunics designed by Yves Saint Laurent during the late 1960s — illustrates the enduring
popularity of early expedition wear.
The main gallery is home to the key environments of Expedition. One of these, the Arctic, is represented by a scenic design of a frozen landscape
and features historical garments, such as a funerary tunic created in Siberia over
100 years ago and indigenous Arctic clothing worn by the pioneering American explorer
Matthew Henson during his trek to the North Pole in 1909. This environment is enriched
with luxurious modern fashions by Madame Grès, Jean Paul Gaultier, Isaac Mizrahi,
and Yohji Yamamoto, plus Karl Lagerfeld’s witty faux fur ensembles for Chanel.
Two parkas by Joseph Altuzarra attest to his interest not only in indigenous Arctic
clothing, but also in a mid-20th century, American military version of the garment
created during the Korean War, and later adopted by counterculture groups such as
the Mods and the Punks. Also included is Tommy Hilﬁger’s gold-colored parka dating
to the 1990s, a style that was popular among members of the hip-hop community.
Extreme mountain climbing is represented by another of the primary environments. Here,
the earliest patented down-ﬁlled jacket by Eddie Bauer, dating to the 1930s, and other
technologically experimental objects, stand alongside a range of fantastic and outrageous
fashions, including Charles James’s 1938 masterpiece: a white silk satin, eider-down-ﬁlled
evening jacket on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Also included are Norma
Kamali’s revolutionary “sleeping bag coat,” dating to the late 1970s, and down-ﬁlled
“puffer” jackets by Junya Watanabe, and Gemna Dvesalia for Balenciaga.
Yohji Yamamoto, ensemble, fall/winter 2000, Japan.
Tommy Hilfiger, man’s ensemble, 1999, USA. Gift of Tommy Hilfiger USA.
Jean Paul Gaultier, coat, fall/winter 1994, France. Lent by Dorothea Mink.
The deep sea is the third environment in Expedition. A number of the fashions featured in this section refer to scuba diving and surﬁng,
but scuba and surf outﬁts are beholden to the early pioneers of deep sea exploration
who sought to invent materials — such as neoprene — to keep them warm in the icy ocean
depths. A range of garments made with this spongy, breathable material includes menswear
by Junko Koshino, Versace, and Thom Browne, as well as women’s fashions by Donna Karan,
Junya Watanabe, and Ohne Titel. Karl Lagerfeld’s sequined jacket for Chanel evokes
the look and lines of this diving material.
Discovery of eerily mesmerizing deep sea creatures, mainly bioluminescent animals,
inspired a number of designers, including Alexander McQueen, who was also an avid
scuba diver. Numerous garments from his spring 2010 collection, titled Plato’s Atlantis, were printed with abstracted images of bioluminescent jellyﬁsh. Two stellar examples
from this collection are part of the personal wardrobe of the Honorable Daphne Guinness,
who is generously lending these objects to the exhibition.
Alexander McQueen, dress, spring/summer 2010, England. Collection of the Honorable
Ohne Titel, coat, fall/winter 2012, bodysuit, spring/summer 2015, boots, fall/winter
2016. USA. Gift of Ohne Titel.
Chanel, jacket, spring/summer 1991, France.
The fourth and ﬁnal environment of Expedition
is a lunar landscape. The futuristic, astral moon setting is enlivened with an array
of bright and light 1960s fashions by Parisian couturiers, such as Pierre Cardin,
André Courrèges, and Paco Rabanne, and American designers, such as Betsey Johnson
for Paraphernalia. Several objects with silver, shiny, reﬂective surfaces were made
using materials inspired by Mylar, rather than actual Mylar ﬁlm. Together, these fashions
illustrate the impact of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union
that dominated the political and cultural arenas from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
Later space-inspired designs by Helmut Lang and Hussein Chalayan round out this section.
Paco Rabanne, wedding dress, circa 1968, France. Gift of Montgomery Ward.
Pierre Cardin, Cosmocorps collection, 1967. Photograph by Yoshi Takata/DR.,
© Archives Pierre Cardin
Helmut Lang, jumpsuit, fall/winter 1999, USA. Gift of HL – art.
The exhibition includes a video that gives visitors more information about expeditions
and their cultural impact, as well as details about a number of the concepts presented.
The MFIT website, too, provides supplemental information about historical figures,
such as explorers Matthew Henson and Robert Peary, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay,
and Sylvia Earle, whose bold and daring expeditions changed the way we view the world
we live in.
Fashion’s long-term impact on the environment has been largely detrimental. It is
understood that many of the objects presented in this exhibition — mainly the furs
and animal products used by the fashion industry — are controversial. In no way is
Expedition attempting to popularize or glamorize the often grizzly culling of furs. While it
can be argued that the indigenous peoples of the Arctic maintained a balanced relationship
with nature — as they only hunted and harvested enough wildlife to sustain their small,
nomadic populations — the same cannot be said for contemporary western purveyors of
luxury goods inspired by groups such as the Inuit.
Most scientists agree that the earth’s climate has been undergoing dramatic changes.
The Arctic and its indigenous wildlife are already being directly impacted by climate
change. While this phenomenon is not a primary focus of Expedition, mankind’s exploitation of natural resources is indeed an underlying aspect that
is eerily, if quietly, ever-present in our collective research and findings. Whenever
possible, the exhibition highlights those who are taking responsibility and working
Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme is also the title of the exhibition’s companion book, to be published by Thames &
Hudson. This is the first collaboration between this illustrious publishing house
and The Museum at FIT. Lavishly illustrated, the book will feature approximately 150
color photographs of objects from MFIT’s permanent collection, as well as others chosen
from runway shows and leading fashion magazines, and unpublished photographs of early
expeditions from the archives of institutions such as the Explorer’s Club in New York.
Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme is supported by the Couture Council.