The Museum at FIT presents RetroSpective, a new exhibition that examines the relationship between fashion and its own history. Current fashions are changing more quickly than ever, and yet, in the constant quest for the next trend, the past is often used as a point of reference. Many designers draw on the past as a fundamental part of their design process.
They adapt, interpret, and attempt to modernize historical silhouettes and details that are as disparate as cage crinolines, flapper dresses, and grunge. While undeniably prevalent now, referencing the past is not only a contemporary phenomenon. RetroSpective will demonstrate that it is, in fact, a practice deeply rooted in fashion history.
RetroSpective will begin with examples of fashions inspired by historical periods prior to the eighteenth century, including a 1981 gold lamé ensemble by Zandra Rhodes and a 1999 painted silk chiffon gown by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Couture. Both looks evoke sixteenth-century England. Also featured will be a small selection of fashions inspired by ancient civilizations, such as Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as particular eras in history, such as the Middle Ages.
The remainder of the exhibition will feature period fashions – beginning with the eighteenth century – grouped with their more recent revivals. A 2006 raffia suit by Walter Van Beirendonck, for instance, will be paired with the type of elaborate eighteenth-century menswear from which it draws inspiration.
Women’s wear examples will explore recurrences of the eighteenth-century pannier silhouette, which was revived as early as the 1920s in the form of dresses called robe de styles, an example of which will be on display.
A silhouette that has been repeatedly reinterpreted is the high-waisted, or Empire, dress which was popular during the first years of the nineteenth century. It returned a century later in fashionable 1910s adaptations. In 1962, designer Norman Norell again revived the Empire gown. His 1962 “Josephine” dress will be displayed, along with examples from the 1810s and 1910s.
One result of a craze for Victoriana in the 1930s was the reprisal of nineteenth-century cage crinolines and bustles. The April 26, 1930, issue of Vogue discussed the influence of, among other historical styles, the bustle and the “upholstered fashions of the [eighteen-] Eighties.”
In the exhibition, a 1930s Schiaparelli dress strongly represents this fashion. Also featured will be a more recent example from Anna Sui, who paired a bustle with a bustier and decorated denim jeans. Sui, who has a penchant for historic dress, once said, “I like using nostalgic elements and adding things to bring them into this decade. What I love is to capture an old feeling and still have it look good.”
n 1965, Norman Norell created a collection so reminiscent of the 1920s that The New York Times was forced to ask, “Is it Norell… or vintage Chanel?” An example will be featured, as will other later reinterpretations of 1920s drop-waist or fringed dresses. The exhibition will also feature examples from revivals of 1940s fashion, particularly from the 1970s, as well as designer adaptations of the styles popular in the 1950s and 1960s.