The Museum at FIT Celebrates 50th Anniversary


Over the past 50 years, The Museum at FIT (MFIT) has educated and inspired audiences with more than 200 innovative, award-winning fashion exhibitions, accompanied by free public programs. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2012, MFIT is New York City’s only museum dedicated solely to the art of fashion.

"Over its 50 years, The Museum at FIT broke new ground in bringing fashion to the forefront of culture in a manner that is highly engaging, enlightening, and accessible. It is a gem on the FIT campus and we are proud to celebrate its accomplishments." —FIT President Joyce F. Brown

"The Museum at FIT has long been a leader in exhibiting and interpreting fashion,” says Dr. Valerie Steele, director of MFIT. "Its founding director, Robert Riley, acquired important garments and organized pioneering exhibitions. Later, Richard Martin spearheaded the appreciation of fashion as an art form. Today, the museum is recognized internationally for the depth of research that goes into its innovative and award-winning exhibitions."

Founded in 1969 by the Fashion Institute of Technology as the Design Laboratory and Galleries at FIT, the museum was officially named The Museum at FIT in 1994. From the beginning, MFIT served multiple audiences, including students, designers, and the public. In 1971, the museum’s first director, Robert Riley, organized a show featuring the work of designer Gilbert Adrian. Upon MGM hearing 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.

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 of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dorothy Twining Globus became director of MFIT, bringing on Dr. Valerie Steele as chief curator.

Since 1997, Steele has curated several 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), which was the first exhibition to explore the significant contributions to fashion made by the LBGTQ community over the past 300 years.  

MFIT celebrated its anniversary with the following events that took place throughout 2019:

  • #MyMFIT Campaign
    In celebration of The Museum at FIT’s 50th anniversary, visitors were asked to share their favorite MFIT exhibitions, events, and experiences on social media using the hashtag #MyMFIT or submit it online.
  • Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT (February 8–April 20)   
    Exhibitionism 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 1971. More than 80 looks, taken entirely from the museum’s permanent holdings, were on display.
  • Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT Talk and Tours (February 27, March 11, April 10)
    Talk and Tours are a popular part of MFIT’s Fashion Culture programming. These tours provided an opportunity to learn more about the various fashion exhibitions featured. 
  • Exhibiting Fashion: The 21st MFIT Fashion Symposium (March 8)
    The symposium explored the history of fashion exhibitions, different ways of exhibiting fashion, and how to assess the success of a particular exhibition. This event was live streamed.
  • Fashion as Cultural Heritage (March 14) 
    As part of its Fashion Culture programming, MFIT hosted a panel discussion about fashion as cultural heritage, featuring Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT; Professor Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University; and moderator Felicia Caponigri, an American lawyer and PhD student at IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy.
  • Couture Council Luncheon (September 4)
    The Couture Council is a membership group that supports MFIT and helps make it possible for the museum to mount world-class exhibitions, build and conserve its extraordinary permanent collection, and organize free public programs. The Couture Council, working in conjunction with the museum, organizes activities and events to raise the organization’s profile and provide financial support for its initiatives. The most important of these events is the annual Couture Council Luncheon. Designers who have received the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion include Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, Michael Kors, and Oscar de la Renta.
  • Paris, Capital of Fashion (September 6–January 4, 2020)
    The groundbreaking exhibition explored how and why Paris became the international capital of fashion. Curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, the exhibition featured about 75 fashion ensembles, dating from the 18th century to present, including extraordinary haute couture looks by Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy.
  • Paris, Capital of Fashion: The 22nd MFIT Fashion Symposium (October 18)
    More than a dozen international curators, scholars, and designers discussed Paris and its relationship with other global fashion cities, like New York. Why is Paris so widely regarded as the international capital of fashion?

You can continue to support The Museum at FIT by donating to our 50th anniversary campaign. Your support helps the museum educate and inspire diverse audiences with world-class exhibitions and programs that are FREE to the public.