A number of exciting fashion exhibitions are opening in New York this month. Avant-garde, anti-fashion and clothing beyond style are the main themes that unit these showcases. Whilst Met’s Comme des Garcons exhibition is bound to dominate the headlines and to pull in spectators, it is worth paying a visit to fashion after Fashion at the Museum of Arts and Design along with Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at Brooklyn Museum for their more intriguing offering.
Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
until September 4
The Costume Institute’s spring 2017 exhibition will examine the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, known for her avant-garde designs and ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability. The thematic show will feature approximately 150 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection.
The galleries will illustrate the designer’s revolutionary experiments in “in-betweenness”—the space between boundaries. Objects will be organized into eight aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Design/Not Design, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at Brooklyn Museum (New York)
until July 23
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern takes a new look at how the renowned modernist artist proclaimed her progressive, independent lifestyle through a self-crafted public persona—including her clothing and the way she posed for the camera. The exhibition expands our understanding of O’Keeffe by focusing on her wardrobe, shown for the first time alongside key paintings and photographs. It confirms and explores her determination to be in charge of how the world understood her identity and artistic values.
In addition to selected paintings and items of clothing, the exhibition presents photographs of O’Keeffe and her homes by Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Philippe Halsman, Yousuf Karsh, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber, Todd Webb, and others. It also includes works that entered the Brooklyn collection following O’Keeffe’s first-ever museum exhibition—held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927.
The exhibition is organized in sections that run from her early years, when O’Keeffe crafted a signature style of dress that dispensed with ornamentation; to her years in New York, in the 1920s and 1930s, when a black-and-white palette dominated much of her art and dress; and to her later years in New Mexico, where her art and clothing changed in response to the surrounding colors of the Southwestern landscape. The final section explores the enormous role photography played in the artist’s reinvention of herself in the Southwest, when a younger generation of photographers visited her, solidifying her status as a pioneer of modernism and as a contemporary style icon.
fashion after Fashion at the Museum of Arts and Design (New York)
until August 6
In 2015, fashion trend forecaster and authority Li Edelkoort declared “the end of Fashion as we know it,” and in her “manifesto for the next decade” provided “ten reasons why the fashion system is obsolete.” In doing so, she echoed a sentiment shared by fashion industry insiders, journalists, pundits, and scholars alike—from reporter Teri Agins, author of the 2000 book The End of Fashion, to fashion theorist Barbara Vinken, who coined the term “postfashion” to describe the contemporary zeitgeist. As the world of fashion continues to evolve, the term “fashion” itself demands redefinition. fashion after Fashion takes up this call, seeking a new understanding of fashion that accommodates a wider range of practices and ideologies.
The exhibition presents the work of six designer teams who are thinking—and making us think—about fashion anew. Featuring some of the most innovative work being produced in the context of contemporary fashion, fashion after Fashion focuses on commissioned, site-sensitive installations to offer an experience that is as immersive and affective as it is mentally stimulating. It presents fashion as an expanded field of practice that is determined by concept and context, and whose practitioners work collaboratively and creatively between and across areas of design and art.
The exhibition’s use of “fashion” (in the lowercase) signals a more reflective, concerned, attentive, creative process that is not determined solely by commerce, the market, and trends. Independently and collectively, the practitioners included in fashion after Fashion call into question the state and nature of Fashion (in the uppercase) and challenge some of its main constructs, including the myth of the individual star designer, short-lived and commodity-driven products, gendered dressing, ideal bodies, and waste. Their work demonstrates the need to diversify the term “fashion” in order to encompass new types of contemporary practice that acknowledge intention, ideas, and process and offer greater creative potential to both the designer and the consumer.
These practitioners speak with authority; all are designers with backgrounds in fashion, yet their work demonstrates how contemporary practitioners are increasingly drawing upon interrelated stimuli and methodologies. Lucy Jones considers body types that would typically be left out of fashion practices and conversations. Eckhaus Latta and Alexa Karolinski profile real people addressing important questions to emphasize that fashion goes beyond clothes and is a shared endeavor between creators, producers, and wearers. Henrik Vibskov refocuses attention on the body in movement and on relationships between fashion and time. Ryohei Kawanishi delves into the fashion system to offer new perspectives. SSAW challenges norms of body and gender, and ideals of beauty. And ensæmble explores the intimate relationship between the body and clothing.
Force of Nature at The Museum at FIT (New York)
until November 18
Force of Nature is a unique exhibition that explores how the beauty and complexity of nature have inspired fashion designers for centuries. More than a survey of decorative flora and fauna, this exhibition reveals the natural world as a source of ideas and symbolism in fashion design. Approximately 95 objects are presented in a manner that demonstrates the deep interconnectedness between fashion and the natural sciences. Spanning the 18th century to the present, Force of Nature features garments, accessories, and textiles from the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT.
The exhibition opens with two dresses by Alexander McQueen, a fashion designer for whom nature was a recurring theme. The dresses, including one from his acclaimed final collection in 2010, present meditations on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and McQueen’s concerns about climate change. Next, a striking selection of garments, including a one-of-a-kind Crystallization “water” dress by Iris van Herpen, introduces visitors to some of the basic elements of the natural world that are included in the exhibition. Another dress by McQueen meticulously reproduces the magnificent plumage of the scarlet macaw, while a look from Rick Owens’ fall 2016 collection contemplates the extinction of the mastodon and provides commentary on environmental change.
A section titled “The Language of Flowers” addresses the importance of flowers in plant reproduction and how this informs the meaning of flower images in dress, particularly roses, lilies, and orchids. Featured is a Charles James evening gown, with a petal-like stole that sensuously transforms its wearer into a flower.
“The Science of Attraction” section delves further into the theory of evolution and its lasting impact on modern society with a look at how ideas about sexual selection relate to aspects of male and female dress. A bright green suit by Yves Saint Laurent highlights the 1960s Peacock Revolution, which brought a colorful, flamboyant look back to men’s fashion. This aligns with patterns in the natural world, where it is often the male of the species—for example, the peacock—that is more visually arresting. On the other hand, a 1950s woman’s hat adorned with a bird of paradise serves as an example of how feathers used by male birds for sexual display have been appropriated to emphasize female allure.
The concept of metamorphosis, from biological to symbolic, is explored through garments such as a dress by Dolce & Gabbana adorned with butterflies. In “The Aviary,” a selection of pieces by Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Cristobal Balenciaga, and other designers, further addresses the symbolism of birds and feathers. The section called “Physical Forces” highlights the impact of theoretical physics and space exploration, demonstrating the cultural significance of these scientific endeavors.
Throughout Force of Nature, digital media allow visitors to learn in greater detail about many of the concepts presented. Interactive iPads and a related website provide supplemental information about historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Rachel Carson who revolutionized the way we see our world. Important inquiries into nature are also addressed, such as the meaning behind the astonishing colors and patterns we see among birds.
Historically, the dynamic between fashion and nature has alternated between harmful and responsible. However, fashion’s impact on plants, animals, and the environment has been largely detrimental. The final section of the exhibition examines this complex relationship. It highlights ways in which designers and companies today are working toward creating a responsible and sustainable relationship with the natural world, encouraging a vital discussion about future directions in fashion.