Anyone titillated by the double entendre of the cleverly titled new exhibit and tome celebrating The Museum at FIT’s golden anniversary might at first be a tad disappointed — or in need of a cold shower. But don’t be.
While the “Exhibitionism” referred to may involve some exposure of skin, it actually announces 50 years of exhibitions at the museum, which was founded in 1969 by the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Since then, the museum has mounted some 200 shows, not the least of which was the exhibitionistic — in the other sense of the word — “The Corset: Fashioning the Body” (2000), which plumbed what museum director Valerie Steele describes in the accompanying introduction as “the most controversial garment in fashion history.” That exhibit is represented in the new show by a bold red American corset (circa 1889) that molded the body it revealed and concealed and still serves as an avatar for its shape. It’s a reminder that while clothes may not make the man after all, they can certainly make — or unmake — the body.
Think of Greta Garbo dying of consumption and ill-fated love — but beautifully — in “Camille” (1936), garbed in a bell-shaped black gown by Adrian with a fitted bodice, winged crinoline cap sleeves and a cascade of pearlescent, metallic appliqué (from the 1971 exhibit on the Hollywood costume designer, who was born in Naugatuck, Connecticut). Or Paul Poiret’s Persian-inspired ensemble in tan and gray with pops of magenta, including the plume atop the pearl-laced turban, for a 1919 fancy dress ball (from the 1976 show “Paul Poiret: King of Fashion”). Or Harry Gordon’s mod Brit paper shift with a giant, made-up eye tilted on the front (from 1987’s “Fashion and Surrealism”). These — along with Versace’s 1991 Andy Warhol-inspired mini suit (from the 2013 show “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk”); a sleek black Madame Grès evening gown (from 2008’s “Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion”); and Roberto Cavalli’s rococo-flavored cutaway denim ensemble (featured in the 2016 show “Denim: Fashion’s Frontier”) — all exquisitely illustrate the way “MFIT’s exhibitions contextualize fashion and underscore its connections to history, culture and society.”
Here’s to the next 50 years.
“Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT,” Feb. 8 through April 20, features 80 looks from the museum’s approximately 200 exhibitions. A companion book, edited by museum director Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill, will also be available. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. The museum is on Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. For more, visit fitnyc.edu/museum/ or call 212-217-4700.