MoMa Exhibition Review: 'Items - Is Fashion Modern?'
Couture black dresses, the YSL “Le smoking” jacket, leather boots and sandals fill the first room of MoMa’s exhibition, Items: Is Fashion Modern?
Curator Paola Antonelli intends to display different types of clothing and accessories that have impacted the past and present. “Everyday, everywhere everyone wears something, whether a full outfit or nothing more than a tattoo,” Antonelli explains in the exhibit’s intro text. She wants the audience to gain “curiosity, awareness, urgency and respect” after viewing the items.
High-end fashion pieces are an unusual choice to start an exhibit that claims to satisfy an open-minded, label-eschewing zeitgeist. But when one looks closer at the history of these items, Antonelli’s method makes total sense.
Take the white Margiela boots for example. To the average onlooker, they might resemble animal feet. These pieces exemplify Martin Margiela’s ability to take inspiration from other cultures and create subversive designs.
The Margiela leather “Tabi” boot was created in 1990, and was actually inspired by the socks worn with Japanese getas—the wooden platform flip-flop sported by Japanese workmen in the 13th century. “The tabi shoes make you feel a bit different…I feel like a statue, part of a complete silhouette that is different from whatever I saw before,” said fashion consultant Linda Loppa, who donated her boots to the exhibition.
In the second room, a more open space, the exhibition visually comes alive. Colorful printed headscarves, a fire engine red puffer jacket, a leopard wrap dress and a case full of kooky-shaped platform sandals pop against the all-white walls.
In the next room, two beautiful dresses with mandarin collars catch my eye. One is pink satin with ribbon-inspired stripes, and the other contains a black and white floral print with primary colors thrown in. These satin “cheongsams,” which is Cantonese for “long robe,” emerged in China in the 1920s and served as symbols of Chinese culture and femininity.
The exhibition continues with vibrant displays of the shift dress, the sweatsuit, the harem pant, the hooded sweatshirt and the tattoo, along with corresponding descriptions of each item’s cultural significance.
The very last piece shown is the white T-shirt; a classic American staple. The white cotton crewneck on display is by decade-old brand Hanes, which first created tees for the U.S. Marine corps. The description reads:
The ubiquity and simplicity of this piece makes it the perfect finish to a display that epitomizes the collision of fashion and culture.
Aside from the very first and very last piece, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rhyme or reason to the order of the items, but that is not possible nor is it necessary when each piece is indicative of the same conceptual theme: a piece with a history.