[Exhibition] Uniformity: Fashion & Textile History Gallery

We encounter uniforms everywhere—on soldiers, school children, flight attendants, and fast-food clerks. According to fashion historian Jennifer Craik, the omnipresence of uniforms has “shaped our ways of seeing.” Uniforms are constant reminders of the social order, so commonplace that they are often overlooked. Designed both to blend in and to stand out, uniforms play a unique role in our daily lives.

In some ways, they are the antithesis of high fashion. While uniform design focuses on functionality, control, and tradition, fashion design promotes constant change, creativity, and subversion. Yet throughout history, fashion has drawn inspiration from uniforms of all kinds. For example, fashion designers often take functional features and transform them into decorative elements.

Uniformity explores the dynamic history behind a variety of uniforms, considering their social role and their influence on high fashion. The exhibition is organized thematically to focus on four categories of uniforms: military, work, school, and sports. Within each category, historic uniforms are juxtaposed with the high fashion looks they have inspired.

Military uniforms are referenced in high fashion more often than any other type of uniform. Designers often borrow elements such as metallic braiding, gold buttons, epaulettes, camouflage, and Breton stripes—features that were originally employed to convey a soldier’s nation, rank, regiment, or branch of the armed forces. The translation of military details into high fashion ornamentation flourished during the nineteenth century. Ornate soutache found its way onto women’s outerwear, and by the end of the century, sailor, or “middy,” collars had become fixtures of women’s daywear. Since then, designers such as Chanel, Claire McCardell, Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Sacai have expanded on the trend by constantly drawing on uniforms in their work.

ensemble

[L to R] Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo), ensemble, 1998, wool; U.S. Army World War I service uniform, 1914-1918, wool, USA. Chanel, “Brasserie Gabrielle” ensemble, fall 2015, wool, silk, cotton, leather, France.

To a certain degree, the adoption of military elements for use in (predominantly female) fashion subverts the hyper-masculine authority of the uniform itself. The power and strength of the uniform fuses with the “feminine” fluidity of fashion, resulting in a garment that is transgressive in its dichotomy. It is both at odds with the original uniform and visually similar to it, which creates an intriguing aesthetic tension.

military elements

[L to R] Jean Paul Gaultier, ensemble, 1992, cotton, France; Sacai, ensemble, spring 2015, cotton, silk, synthetic.

Work uniforms are designed to make employees of different occupations immediately identifiable. To do this, uniform designers utilize easily recognizable devices. Nurse uniforms, for example, have historically included a distinctive cap and bright white aprons or smocks worn over a standardized dress of blue, pink, white, or grey. McDonald’s uniforms, on the other hand, utilize the distinctive colors and symbols of the company logo to transform each employee into an extension of the company’s branding. While work uniforms have not had as much impact as military uniforms, they too have inspired fashion designers. One example of this is a look from Chanel’s fall 2015 collection that plays on the uniforms of Parisian waiters, complete with a clutch bag that mimics the look of plates.

WORK

[L to R] Stan Herman, McDonald’s uniform, 1976, polyester, USA. Stan Herman, TWA flight attendant uniforms, 1975, synthetic blend, USA.

School uniforms hold a special significance for many wearers. Worn during childhood and adolescence, a school uniform—or more accurately, a person’s reaction to a school uniform—can have a marked impact on that person’s attitude towards dress and even his or her own identity. Many designers have experimented with the signature elements of the school uniform, from blazers to pleated skirts. Thom Browne, for example, often combines the iconography of the school blazer with a traditional grey flannel suit, thus fusing adolescent and adult dress codes in a single look. Likewise, a Rudi Gernreich homage to a schoolgirl uniform from 1967 demonstrates that the style became increasingly sexualized during the second half of the twentieth century.

[L to R] Rudi Gernreich, “Japanese Schoolgirl” ensemble, fall 1967, wool, USA. Princeton University blazer, 1944, wool, USA.

[L to R] Rudi Gernreich, “Japanese Schoolgirl” ensemble, fall 1967, wool, USA. Princeton University blazer, 1944, wool, USA.

Athletic uniforms sometimes borrow elements from military uniforms. Color contrasts, bold stripes, and soutache braiding help to convey a sense of power and strength. Athletic jerseys distinguish a team from its competitors, and also unite its members as a cohesive group. However, individual numbers help to maintain a level of individuality within a team. The bold insignias and markings of athletic jerseys have influenced the logo-driven branding of many luxury fashion labels. Companies such as Gucci will often place their company names or logos where a team name, player number, or mascot might appear on the front, back, or even sleeve of an athletic uniform.

[L to R] Football uniform, c. 1920, wool and cotton duck, USA. Geoffrey Beene, “football jersey” dress, fall 1967, silk and sequins, USA.

[L to R] Football uniform, c. 1920, wool and cotton duck, USA. Geoffrey Beene, “football jersey” dress, fall 1967, silk and sequins, USA.

The push-pull between the identity of a group and that of an individual is a constant tension in modern society. Fashion critic Suzy Menkes once said, “The way that people dress makes them part of an army, dressed in their own uniform, determined to do something.” Although we may not each wear an official uniform in our everyday lives, the influence of uniforms can always be felt, even in the basic activity of getting dressed each morning.

Uniformity is organized by Emma McClendon, assistant curator of costume at The Museum at FIT.

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[Red Carpet] Met Gala ’16: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”

Last night the most prestigious event in the industry was held; the Met Gala. This event is  formally called the Costume Institute Gala and also known as the Met Ball, is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s Costume Institute in New York City. It marks the grand opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit. Each year’s event celebrates the theme of that year’s Costume Institute exhibition, and this sets the tone for the formal dress of the night since guests are expected to choose their fashion to match the theme.

This years exposition is “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” head curator Andrew Bolton touched on the traditionally dichotomous relationship between the handmade and machine-made in fashion, and the blurring of the two disciplines in the creation of haute couture and ready-to-wear.

The attendees were not shy to flaunt their unique styles. The men attending the anual event were not one to hold back in there custom designer attire, the attention to detail was immaculate and is what makes menswear unique for this sort of event.

Jaden Smith in custom Louis Vuitton with white pipping, Derek Blasberg in custom detailed collar and cummerbund by Prada, Douglas Booth in custom Topman, Colin Farrell in classic Dolce & Gabbana and Jared Leto in all white steampunk inspired Gucci.

[L to R] Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton, Derek Blasberg in Prada, Douglas Booth in custom Topman, Colin Farrell in Dolce & Gabbana and Jared Leto in Gucci.

[L to R] Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton, Derek Blasberg in Prada, Douglas Booth in custom Topman, Colin Farrell in Dolce & Gabbana & Jared Leto in Gucci.

The artist, models, socialites and starlets that attended the event did not hold back, were completely creative and allowed themselves to venture the different and outrages styles created as Haute Couture and Ready to Wear.

Sarah Jessica Parker in Hamilton inspired Monse with a modern tribute to the past, Jourdan Dunn in  techie Balmain, Kate Hudson in a commixture of a handmade and laser cut Atelier Versace gown, Taylor Swift in  edgy Louis Vuitton and Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace.

[L to R] Sarah Jessica Parker in Monse, Jourdan Dunn in Balmain, Kate Hudson in Atelier Versace, Taylor Swift in Louis Vuitton and Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace.

[L to R] Sarah Jessica Parker in Monse, Jourdan Dunn in Balmain, Kate Hudson in Atelier Versace, Taylor Swift in Louis Vuitton & Lady Gaga in Atelier Versace.

Anna Wintour in classically beautiful Chanel Haute Couture, Katy Perry in gothic inspired Prada, Rachel McAdams in Valentino Haute Couture, Rita Ora in the always posh Vera Wang & Nicole Kidman in  the always breathtaking Alexander McQueen.

[L to R] Anna Wintour in Chanel Haute Couture, Katy Perry in Prada, Rachel McAdams in Valentino Haute Couture, Rita Ora in Vera Wang & Nicole Kidman in Alexander McQueen.

[L to R] Anna Wintour in Chanel Haute Couture, Katy Perry in Prada, Rachel McAdams in Valentino Haute Couture, Rita Ora in Vera Wang & Nicole Kidman in Alexander McQueen.

The most outlandish and gorgeous dress was worn by Claire Danes and created by Zac Posen. The beautiful design was highly criticized, being called a Cinderella dress. But the gown took on a life of its own, when the couturier surprised everyone with the perfect harmony of “Manus X Machina”, incorporating fiber optics. Reminding us that the machine made can always be impressive, but the handmade infused with technology can create wonders.

Claire Danes in Zac Pose

Claire Danes in Zac Posen.

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[Exhibit] The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958

The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958 focuses on a pivotal time in the history of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. The exhibition explores the dynamic collaboration among Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who reinvigorated Harper’s Bazaar by combining their individual talents.  Drawing from The Museum at FIT’s extensive collection of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s color photographs—donated by the photographer herself—the exhibition highlights original photographs shown alongside nine garments by Christian Dior, Charles James, Mainbocher, Claire McCardell, and Carolyn Schnurer that exemplify the vast array of captivating styles featured in Harper’s Bazaar.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952; Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in a Carolyn Schnurer top. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1952; Carolyn Schnurer, top, 1952.

The exhibition opens with an embroidered, elephant-motif top by American designer Carolyn Schnurer. This piece epitomizes the designer’s whimsical sportswear, perfectly suited to an American woman’s lifestyle during the era. It is paired with a photograph of the same garment in an inverted color scheme that was featured in the December 1952 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

The exhibition continues with sections dedicated to each of the three women, showcasing their individual contributions. Carmel Snow had a forward-thinking attitude and, to quote her niece and successor Nancy White, was a “genius for picking other people of genius.” Diana Vreeland took an imaginative approach to fashion styling, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe explored advancements in color photography and pioneered on-location shooting in destinations such as Egypt and São Paulo. Their talents combined to make Harper’s Bazaar a definitive fashion magazine of the time.
[L to R] Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947; Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954.

[L to R] Model wearing the Mystère coat by Christian Dior in Paris at Malmaison. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, November 1947; Christian Dior New York, coat, 1954.

The impact of the women’s collaborative process is demonstrated through a series of photographs and documents. On display are personal letters between Carmel Snow and model Mary Jane Russell describing a memorable fashion editorial from the Paris collections of 1951. Behind-the-scenes photographs and outtakes document the famous 1942 Arizona desert photo shoot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house—styled by Vreeland—during which she stepped in front of the camera after model Bijou Barrington fell ill from heat stroke.
[L to R] Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947; Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952.

[L to R] Model Betty Threat in a Charles James evening dress. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, April 1947; Charles James, evening dress, circa 1952.

Video footage from the documentaries Louise Dahl-Wolfe: Painting with Light and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel offer a glimpse into each woman’s personality. Copper-plates and the resulting color proofs reveal the steps of Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s working process.  Additionally, four large scale reproductions of Dahl-Wolfe photographs featured in the magazine will be paired with related garments that mimic the fashion seen in the images.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953; Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942; Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942.

[L to R] Model Jean Patchett in Alhambra, Granada Spain wearing a Givenchy ensemble. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1953; Diana Vreeland modeling at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pauson house in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942; Model Bijou Barrington on location in Arizona. Photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, January 1942.

  • A gray wool jersey swimsuit by Claire McCardell in the designer’s signature style is shown with a photo of a similar design from the May 1946 issue of the magazine.
  • A 1948 Mainbocher gray wool suit with exquisite scrollwork is paired with a photograph in which the model wears a pith helmet and holds an hourglass, exemplifying what the magazine called “the covert look.”
  • A 1954 Christian Dior black coat is used to simulate Dior’s famous Mystère coat from his groundbreaking 1947 collection, as it appeared in a Dahl-Wolfe photograph. The similarities between the two garments highlight the lasting impact of the collection that Snow christened “A New Look.”
  • An evening gown by designer Charles James is juxtaposed with a Louise Dahl-Wolfe photograph that mimics the structural silhouettes of American evening wear represented in the magazine.
[L to R] Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946; Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946.

[L to R] Model Betty Bridges in Tijuca, Brazil wearing a Claire McCardell swimsuit. Photography by Louise Dahl- Wolfe, color proof, featured in Harper’s Bazaar, May 1946; Claire McCardell, swimsuit, 1946.

The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936-1958 is the first exhibition to focus on the interaction between these three individuals, highlighting collaboration as an essential component of the creative process. With their brilliant colors, arresting compositions, and faraway locales, the Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs that comprise the heart of the exhibition convey an idea of fashion as a conduit to a more vivid existence.

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