Museum at FIT – RetroSpective

One of the great treasures of the fashion history world is the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.   At any time there is at least one exhibition, and often there are more.  And quite incredibly for a city where everything is expensive, the museum is free of charge.

The exhibition this summer has been RetroSpective, in which the relationship that fashion has with past fashion is explored.  This is a topic of special interest to vintage clothing lovers like me.  It seems like we are always discussing the past influences that show up on the runway or in more recent fashion.  As this exhibition shows us, fashion has long looked to the past for inspiration.

The top photo is from a 1999 gown by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy, in which you can see references to the fashion of 16th century England.

On the left is a man’s embroidered coat and vest from around 1790.  The ensemble on the right, featuring a raffia coat with embroidery, is by designer Walter Van Beirendonck.  It is from his 2006 Relics of the Future collection.

Don’t forget to click!

This installation shows how fashion has gotten inspiration from the robe à l’anglaise of the 18th century.  On the far left is a silk damask robe à l’anglaise, circa 1765. The look of  wide hips is created through the use of panniers – pads or hoops at the sides.    The gown next to it is from 1951, by French couturier Pierre Balmain.  The fullness of the skirt mimics the effect of panniers, and the bottom of the corseted top reminds one of the stomacher of the robe à l’anglaise.

The black dress is a circa 1923 robe de style, a look associated with couturier Jeanne Lanvin.  Again, note how the side fullness of the skirt is reminiscent of the 1765 panniers.  Finally there is a 2009 dress from Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. Her dress, constructed from bands of ribbons, has panniers shaped by wires.

The dress in front is a circa 1810 Empire style gown of silk.  It is styled after the long gowns of ancient Greece.  The red dress is from American designer, Norman Norell, a 1962 homage to the Empress Josephine.  The Empire waist also was popular in the early 1910s.

This display shows the lasting influence of the crinoline of the 1860s.  On the far left is a circa 1860 dress, the skirt of which would have been supported by crinoline cages like the one hanging beside it.  The look became popular again in the 1950s.  The early 1950s green satin dress is by Anne Fogarty, who was famous for this silhouette.   (I loved seeing this, as I have the same dress, but in a dark red velveteen, in my own collection.)   In the case in front of it is a folding plastic crinoline from the 1950s.

The crinoline influence can also be seen in a 1996 gown by Japanese designer Yoshiki Hishinuma.  Look carefully and you can see the cage beneath the skirt.  On the next ensemble, you can’t miss the cage.  It’s by Thom Browne, 2013.

Here’s a better look at the  Yoshiki Hishinuma dress.

As impracticable as it might seem, the bustle of the late 1880s has been revived numerous times.  Starting on the right you see a circa 1939 silk gown by Elsa Schiaparelli, in which the effect of a bustle is created through the use of gathers and a huge bow.  The bustle also made a comeback in the 1980s.  The black velvet and dotted gown is a 1988 creation of Carolina Herrera.   On the left is a denim and silk creation by Anna Sui, 1999.

Elsa Schiaparelli, evening dress, black and bronze shot silk taffeta, circa 1939, France, courtesy of Mrs. Michael Blankfort.

The dropped waist, fringe, and straight silhouette of the 1920s have been widely copied.  The red dress is from 1925, and is by Lenief of France.    The black dress beside it is from 1961 and is by Marc Bohan for Dior.   Next is a black wool from Norman Norell, 1965.  You can also see the fringe effect in the pink Carolyne Roehm dress from 1988.  Finally, the blue wool jersey dress is from Rifat Ozbek, 1986.

This dress must have been very popular, as I’ve seen quite a few 1960s copies with the same concept of the fringe being made from strips of cloth.

Norman Norell, evening dress, black wool crepe, rhinestones, circa 1965, USA, gift of Lauren Bacall

On the left is a 1960s Harry Gordon  paper dress.  On the right, a Sarah Caplan for MPH,  non-woven Tyvek dress, 1999

In the 1960s designer Paco Rabanne became famous for his dresses made of plastic and metal links, and which were reminiscent of Medieval chain mail.  In 2004 Yohji Yamamoto used a similar technique using triangles of chambray connected by metal links.

And to finish, here is a grouping of clothes, inspired by the 1980 and the 1990s.  Right to left:
 Dries Van Noten plaid cotton, silk,  and stretch satin ensemble,  2013
Anna Sui, Rainbow Grunge, 1993
Stephen Sprouse,  man’s leggings, printed spandex, 1985
Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga printed canvas, striped knit dress, 2004
Mike Bidlo, painted tweed suit, 1982

In all there were over 100 items on display, including quite a few standout items not shown here – a Pola Stout fabric Adrian suit, dresses by Claire McCardell, a 1950s Dior suit, and Thea Porter from 1973.  Over all, it was an afternoon well spent!

All images courtesy and copyright of The Museum at FIT.   RetroSpective is on view until November 16, 2013.


Filed under Museums

20 responses to “Museum at FIT – RetroSpective

  1. Goodness, I wish I could go and see it. But this overview was great in itself. So very interesting and educational! Thank you! (By the way, did you have any luck with the bathing suits?)


  2. seaside

    I love seeing these fashions that reference eariler looks. Thanks for the short tutorial and the good photos and ease of following the text and photos. Your blog is always interesting and user-friendly.


  3. seaside

    P.S. Boy, do I love that 1939 gown designed by Schiaparelli. I’m so impressed when a gown is so thoughtfully shaped in the back and not just the front. A stunning entrance is expected but it’s sometimes a surprise to find an exceptional back to the dress.


  4. Fashion Witness

    Thank you for the virtual tour of this exhibit!


  5. Fabulous! It is great to have such exhibitons so people can realize that what at this moment is presented on runways has very often its roots in the past ..


  6. Thanks so much for sharing these photos Lizzie. I really wish to one day be able to visit this museum and have drooled over their online database but your photos are fabulous!


  7. Thank you for the review. I almost went to see it but the heat wave was so atrocious, I decided against it. Did it take you all afternoon or just an hour or so? I still may try to catch it. I love the paniers and I love Lanvin almost as much as Chanel.


  8. Inspiration for all fashion followers! I’m so excited this exhibition will be open when I’m in New York for the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show in October. Thanks for sharing these photos with your informative narrative. Hope you’ll stop by Modern Matters if you attend the Oct. show.


  9. What! A free museum in NY!? Thanks for the great tour, Lizzie, I’m especially intrigued by the folding plastic crinoline from the 1950s.


  10. Great overview of this exhibition. I’m glad it’s on till Nov. I might get to see it.
    The dress in the lead photo is a stunner. It made me think of all the early styles referenced by Laura Ashley.
    The paper dresses also reminded me of an all-white Tyvek dress by some Italian design house that I had in the mid 90s (purchased at my source for inexpensive high-end fashion– Filene’s Basement).
    As with the tile, a fair number of dogs in my collection are scotties. I believe you’ve shown some of your collection on your blog, right?


    • I hope you can get to NYC to see it.

      I’ve shown some of the Scottie greeting cards, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a full-out post about my Scotties. I mainly love handcrafted things like woodworking projects and embroidery. And jewelry, and buttons, and planters…


  11. So inspiring! I love the FIT museum and have never been disappointed by any of their exhibits. But this one seems perfect for those with an interest in fashion history.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.