MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

MoMA opens its doors this weekend to its first fashion exhibition since 1944 and only its second in the museum’s history, this being a subject more usually embraced by the Met. Items: Is Fashion Modern? is an exhaustive plumb of the last century to unearth some of its most iconic sartorial paraphernalia: from Rudi Gernreich’s genderless clothing of 1969 which boldly foresaw what we’re only just beginning to confront as a society or Colin Kaepernick’s number 7 jersey which, although acquired over a year ago, encapsulates our nation’s most up-to-the-minute concerns to YSL’s phenomenally successful Touche Eclat or Gossard’s Wonderbra, responses to society’s more intimate struggles. The cultural significance of the bandanna, the do-rag, and the sari, are explored next to fanny packs, Spanx, and Ginger Spice’s Buffalo boots.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

From the mass market white T to the most exclusive iterations of the little black dress; from Birkin bag to the biker jacket, from Dapper Dan’s logocentric Harlem streetwear to Elton John’s platformed stagewear, Items is a cabinet of curiosities.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

MoMA's Cabinet of Curiosities

The attire of women, whether burkinis or head wraps, provides eternal fodder for debate, but one particularly intriguing section presents a sculptor’s impressions of what the female form would look like if women’s physiques actually followed the more anatomically challenging silhouettes that have been imposed upon them: there’s the four-legged centaur created by the bustle of 1875, the overhanging mono-bosom of 1904, the one-legged top-heavy hourglass of 1913, and the twenties concave flapper.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

Items makes the case that fashion is always relevant, responsive, reactionary, at our service, and reflective of our politics, entertainment, environment. But we are also encouraged to view it as a character in our own personal narrative as well as within that of society at large; an active participant in our family life, adolescence, travels, romances, careers. Those other than the fashion enthusiast who might not previously have given it such credit will surely pause to revaluate. Fashion has been there, propping us up and protecting us, poking fun and pushing us forward. Items urges us to at least tag it in the album of our existence.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

This eclectic array of 111 articles is an ambitious and illuminating attempt to build our respect for the scope of how fashion has shaped our daily lives. Through archetype, stereotype and prototype, we not only gain an understanding of its historical significance but its place in tomorrow with many pieces incorporating the technology of the future having been commissioned especially for the exhibition.

MoMA’s Big Fall Fashion Exhibition is A Cabinet of Curiosities

Items: Is Fashion Modern? runs from 1 October 2017 to 28 January 2018.

Photos author’s own.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

 

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