Special Exhibitions Gallery
August 6 - November 28, 2021
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Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion, explores how the rose has influenced the way we look, dress, feel, and fantasize.
The rose and the savage thorns that protect it—along with the symbolism and myths
it has inspired—have long affected designers of fashionable dress, textiles, and accessories.
This major exhibition foregrounds innovative and experimental designs, while recognizing
that wearing or holding a rose can be transformative. In an effort to provide a safe
environment, visitors are encouraged to plan ahead for their visit by reviewing the
latest safety guidelines and protocols, available here.
Noir Kei Ninomiya, ensemble, red wool, resin-treated faux fur, nylon, spring 2020.
France. Photograph © Comme des Garçons.
Studio portrait of a woman with a silk rose in her hair, circa 1910, USA. Private
V. Buso, stiletto pumps, red suede, green painted metal, circa 1960, Italy, P90.78.2.
Halston, “American Beauty Rose” evening dress, red silk organza, resort 1980, USA,
gift of Ms. Chris Royer, 91.185.2.
The exhibition features more than 130 items ranging from the most luxurious hand-woven and embroidered
18th-century silks to the latest gender-neutral catwalk trends. Items were selected
from the museum’s world-class collection and include a large group of hats, many of
which are displayed for the first time. The garments and accessories are interpreted
in the context of themes such as love, beauty, sex, sin, gendered identities, rites
of passage, transgression, degradation, and death.
Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of MFIT, said, “The Museum at FIT is reopening to
visitors with a spectacular new exhibition on fashion inspired by the imagery and
symbolism of the rose—whether crimson, pink, white, yellow, or black. Long associated
with love and pleasure, the rose and its thorns can also allude to suffering, purity,
and transience. Drawing on three centuries of fashion, this beautiful exhibition features
work by designers from Charles James to Alexander McQueen. I am grateful to Amy de
la Haye and Colleen Hill for co-curating what is sure to be one of our most popular
Elsa Schiaparelli, hat, black silk panne velvet, red and green silk organza, black
feathers, black nylon net, 1950s, France, 2009.15.6.
“Picture” hat, black horsehair, black velvet, black satin, dark red silk velvet, circa
1908, USA, P83.19.13.
Mr. John, “Primavera” hat, pale pink artificial rose petals, artificial daisies, pink
wild roses, violets and small yellow flowers, circa 1950, USA, gift of Blanche Thebom,
Stephen Jones Millinery, “Limo Rose” top hat, black panne velvet and pink silk, fall
2008 (remade 2020), England. Photograph © Peter Ashworth.
The introductory gallery comprises a magical “rose garden of hats” from international
milliners such as Lilly Daché, Mr. John, and Caroline Reboux, in addition to fashion
design houses including Christian Dior, Lanvin, and Schiaparelli. Several hats are
decorated with magnificent artificial roses, others are crafted to resemble the shape
of the flowers, some appear to be composed from its petals, and others have been made
from rose-patterned materials. A stunning, wide-brimmed, black horsehair hat, dating
from circa 1908 and bedecked with a profusion of dark red silk buds and roses, has
been expertly conserved for the show. Another, from American milliner, Mr. John, dates
to 1950 and is called “Primavera.” Its rose-like form, strewn with pink cotton petals,
is decorated with artificial wild roses, daisies, violets, and small yellow flowers.
More modern is a dashing black top hat with a pink silk rose, designed by Stephen
Jones in 2008 and specially remade for this exhibition.
The introduction to the exhibition includes more than 75 original photographic portraits
of people wearing roses, both real and artificial, dating from the 1850s to the 1920s—a
period when studio and amateur photography became increasingly accessible. These images,
collected especially for the exhibition, reveal how roses were used regularly as studio
props and had the power to transform their wearer’s dressed appearance.
Christian Dior, two-piece evening dress, off-white organdy with embroidered green
and pink rose pattern, 1950, France, gift of Miss Adele Simpson, 68.144.12.
Comme des Garçons pantsuit, dark red cotton velvet, fall 2013, Japan, 2016.55.4.
Charles James, “La Sylphide” debutante dress, off-white silk organza and satin with
grosgrain ribbon and silk roses, 1937, USA, gift of Mrs. John Hammond, 77.89.3.
The main gallery, the “rose garden of fashion,” has been designed with a romantic
but edgy garden theme. It displays more than 50 ensembles arranged by color. The visitor
first encounters a dramatic red rose–themed display inspired by “crimson joy,” a line
in a William Blake poem from 1794. The red rose is widely associated with love, passion,
and devotion, particularly among females, and this section includes women’s clothing
by labels such as Comme des Garçons, Dior, Halston, and Alexander McQueen. An ensemble
by Noir Kei Ninomiya—newly acquired for this exhibition—takes the form of a rose but
rebuffs any notion of fragility that may be associated with the floral or the feminine.
Another section focuses on the use of the colors white and pale pink. Since Ancient
Rome, the rose has marked rites of passage—from birth through marriage (for some),
the loss of virginity, and death. White and pink roses became associated with young
females and have thus been frequently used for dresses worn by debutantes. Charles
James’s 1937 gown, worn by New York debutante Esme O’Brien, features a boned corselette
bodice. It was designed in the Neo-Romantic style, which took inspiration from late
19th-century fashion. Although many of James's silhouettes have been likened to flowers,
his use of artificial blooms was rare and spectacular. Another garment in this section
is a newly acquired dress from circa 1810, made from sheer white cotton embroidered
with a meandering, naturalistic motif of roses at the hem, evocative of youthfulness
The black rose can symbolize fated love, tragedy, and death. Although there are no
truly black flowers in nature, the idea of them has proved compelling. There are many
black roses in fashion design, where they acquired a glamorous and/or transgressive
allure, frequently depicted within lace patterns. Cristóbal Balenciaga referenced
his Spanish heritage by using black lace, worn by the clergy and the monarchy since
the late 18th century; the exhibition features a two-piece cocktail ensemble from
1963 from Balenciaga, made from rose-patterned Chantilly lace, layered over black
satin. In complete contrast, a future-forward, disposable “paper” dress from 1968
features a screen-printed oversized image of a rose.
Finally, a group of garments representing a “mixed bunch” of roses features the flower
in yellow, blue, and other colors. This section also highlights that the rose was—and
is—significant within men’s fashion, and more recently within gender-neutral designs.
Roses have featured prominently in the collections of Alessandro Michele, creative
director at Gucci. The exhibition features a suit by Michele made from dark blue silk
and woven with a design of pink roses, that formed part of his last dedicated menswear
show. Charles Jeffrey’s “Rose-scribble” printed fabric, used to fashion a man’s coat,
is characteristic of the designer's use of bold color and graphic patterns. Neil Grotzinger,
designer for the label NIHL, creates gender-neutral collections that explore notions
of masculinity, queerness, power, and sensuality. His two-piece ensemble is made from
rose-patterned lace, with trousers spray-painted in shades of gray, brown, red, and
Gucci, man’s suit, blue silk, black silk velvet, spring 2017, Italy, gift of Gucci,
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, coat, multicolor printed linen, spring 2019, England.
Harry Gordon, “Poster” dress, non-woven fabric with rose print, 1968, England, gift
of Ruth Ford, 86.136.7.
The exhibition is curated by Amy de la Haye, Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Dress History and Curatorship
and joint director of the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion,
with Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories at The Museum at FIT.
Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion leads the first phase of MFIT’s reopening, following its 2020 closure when FIT moved
to remote learning due to the pandemic. A fall exhibition will be announced shortly,
in addition to virtual Fashion Culture programming.
Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion (published by Yale University Press and now available) is written by Amy de la Haye.
It includes a conversation, “On Roses,” with famed photographer Nick Knight, in addition
to contributions from fashion historians Jonathan Faiers, Colleen Hill, Mairi MacKenzie,
and Geoffrey Munn.
SymposiumA virtual companion symposium held on April 30, 2021 features talks by exhibition co-curator Amy de la Haye and
fashion historians Jonathan Faiers and Mairi MacKenzie. It also includes a conversation
between MFIT curators Colleen Hill and Elizabeth Way.
Visiting the MuseumRavishing: The Rose in Fashion has been made possible thanks to the generosity of The Couture Council of The Museum
The museum will be open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from noon to 8 pm, and
Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. To avoid overcrowding,
groups of people entering together should consist of no more than five friends or
family members. MFIT hopes to increase capacity in the near future. Additional safety
measures include social distancing, hand sanitizer stations, and the removal of high-touch
areas such as interactive displays, seating, and brochure kiosks. It is mandatory
that all visitors, regardless of their vaccination status, wear a face mask while
in the museum. All visitors are requested to review the latest safety guidelines and
protocols, available here.
All press inquiries may be directed to press [at] fitnyc.edu