Fashion Unraveled @ FIT

"The beauty thing isn't important to me." - Bernhard Willhelm

Fashion Unraveled

Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC
Fashion & Textile History Gallery
May 25, 2018 – November 17, 2018

May 29, 2018

Although the potential for Fashion Unraveled is as high as the price for Birkin bag, its execution feels much like the pieces on display: unfinished. I'm a complete sucker for process and drooled all over myself staring at Michelangelo's preparatory sketches for the Sistine Chapel. I made my high school prom dresses. I've got no less than 3 unfinished crochet projects on my bedside table.

I'm also excited to see any exhibition stretching the boundaries of convention. It's difficult to do these days, when the recycled carousel of blockbuster eye candy draws visitors in droves. A Picasso or Klimt exhibit will almost always be more popular than a simple Cubism retrospective, and you might as well forget about those esoteric experimentalists that time forgot.

(On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the turn-out and success of Pipilotti Rist's recent show at the New Museum, though that likely stemmed from superbly Instagrammable content.)

Fashion Unraveled has extraordinary potential to push the boundary of made versus unmade, and certainly has many things going for it. The delightfully concise and charming exhibit labels draw from quotes in other sources, giving the exhibit long legs into history. In choosing these unfinished pieces for display, the exhibit claims to give attention to items "overlooked within museum collections," which is an admirable endeavor indeed.

However, I simply had too many curatorial critiques to enjoy the show to its fullest. By dividing the pieces into 5 concrete categories (Behind the Seams, Mended and Altered, Repurposed, Unfinished, and Distressed and Deconstructed), the curators locked themselves into a rigid structure of display. Pieces that could have transcended multiple categories seemed mummified in their individual sectors without having a chance to meet or converse with other objects.

Similarly, the exhibit's flow read like the mind of someone who "expects" visitors to encounter an exhibition in a particular way. Imagine, for example, that you live in England and drive on the left side of the road. British museumgoers are more likely to enter a gallery and turn left, while American visitors tend to turn right (I swear this is true, try it next time you're at a museum). Although curators can do their best to encourage audience flow, one must never expect all visitors to follow the conveyor belt you've laid before them.

Fashion Unraveled placed all explanatory text as if expecting the viewer to turn left, but after watching a dozen visitors I realized most walked straight towards an object that enticed them, rather than reading text at all. The captions seemed more like an academic exercise than a complement to the garments.

Ultimately, the exhibit has potential, if displayed in a larger, better lit, more contextualized space than a grey-walled, grey-floored, small dimly-lit gallery. I can't fault the curator for that (limitations of space and lighting can provide a wonderful challenge), but I couldn't avoid the feeling that everything was unfinished.

Like a soup without salt, it's hard to put your finger on what's missing. However, with a little pizazz this show could reach its potential and push the fashion exhibition envelope a smidge further.

Sweater ensemble: Full length cardigan sweater dress in brown ribbed acrylic, with horizontal seams and exposed whip-stitching in yellow and blue thick twisted yarn; long sleeves and notch collar; two long sleeved crop tops with deep scoop necks, made from beige and black pantyhose. Image courtesy FIT newsroom.

Exhibitions at FIT are free to the public.

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