Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every May, regular visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art know that one of the best exhibitions of the year is about to open –  the Costume Institute’s Spring Exhibition. The exhibition begins with a grand, star-studded gala. Famous musicians, actors, and public figures dress in festive attire inspired by that year’s exhibition theme, and then throughout the summer visitors flock to the museum to explore it. This year’s exhibition is a real treat, a fashion-based art exhibition that requires visitors to interrogate their own assumptions as their ideas of fashion are challenged. Titled Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between, the exhibition focuses on the avant-garde work of designer Rei Kawakubo.

Here’s the museum’s overview description of the exhibition (you can find the full exhibition guide here on the museum’s website.):

The galleries illustrate the designer’s revolutionary experiments in “in-betweenness”—the space between boundaries. Objects are organized into nine aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, 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.

There are approximately 140 designs in the exhibition, making it a feast for the eyes. I’ve included photos of some of the designs below, with notes about what aesthetic themes they are associated with. As you can see, there is a real range of ideas represented in Kawakubo’s work.

First, we have Object/Subject:

This one is Good Taste/Bad Taste:

Here, we have Elite Culture/Popular Culture:

Now, Male/Female:

This striking piece is an example of Fact/Fiction:

And this one is War/Peace:

I love the contrasts between these next two, labeled Beautiful/Grotesque:

And finally, ending with my favorite gallery in the exhibition, Order/Chaos:

Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between is open to the public through September 4, 2017, so there is still plenty of time to see the full exhibition in person.

Uniforms as Fashion Inspiration at the FIT Museum

New York City is known for fashion, and there are a number of museums that host fashion exhibitions. (In fact, I’ve previously written about a few of those exhibitions here, here, and here.) What many people don’t know is that there is a museum entirely dedicated to fashion in New York City, and it’s free. The Fashion Institute of Technology has its own small museum, a little gem with rotating exhibitions.

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The current exhibition, titled Uniformity, explores the connections between uniforms and high fashion. As visitors tour the museum, they discover 4 categories of uniforms: school, sports, work, and military. Curators have juxtaposed those uniforms with fashion designs that take inspiration from uniform details and silhouettes.

Here are just a few examples of the uniforms and fashion exhibits in Uniformity. I’ve included identifications and designers in each photo’s caption.

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Left: Designer Claire McCardell, 1947-1950; Right: Man’s WWII U.S. Air Corps uniform, 1945
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Left: designer John Bartlett, Spring 2011; Middle: designer Michael Kors, Fall 2013; Right: designer Richard James, 2002
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Left: U.S. Air Force uniform flight suit, 1940-1945; Right: U.S. Coast Guard uniform flight suit, 1970s
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Designer Elio Fiorucci, circa 1976
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Designer Stan Herman, TWA flight attendant uniforms, 1975
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Left: school uniform from Eton College, 1390; Right: designer Thom Browne, 2006
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Left: man’s track uniform, c. 1925, USA; Right: Muratado Company, girl’s summer school uniform, 2010, Japan
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Left: McCarthy & Simon, school uniform for Marymount College, c. 1927; Right: designer Rudi Gernreich, Fall 1967

There are still a couple of months to catch the Uniformity exhibition in person – it continues until November 19, 2016. The FIT Museum is located at the corner of 27th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan. The closest subway station is the 1 train’s 28th Street station, only a short block away from the museum’s entrance. It’s a slightly longer walk to take the R or N train to 28th Street, or the F or M train to 23rd Street.

Fashion at the Met Museum: Manus x Machina

Every May the Costume Institute at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsors a special fashion exhibition. This year’s exhibition, titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, is on view through August 14, 2016. [Update: The exhibition has now been extended through September 5, 2016!] The exhibition explores the evolution of hand-made and machine-made haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear fashion from the 20th and 21st centuries.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is this stunning wedding dress by designer Karl Lagerfeld, part of Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2014-2015 collection. The dress is constructed of hand-sculpted scuba knit, and the magnificent 20-foot train is embellished with gold hand-painting, machine-attached rhinestones, and hand-embroidered pearls and gemstones. The people in the photos below give you some idea of the scale of the train. As the first thing visitors see when they enter the exhibition, it raises expectations of what’s to come.

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Much of the exhibition was divided up into techniques used to add details to designs. One section explored flower-making techniques, and included numerous dresses from the past 100 years to illustrate the evolution of those techniques. I found these two dresses, by British designer Alexander McQueen, very interesting. The flower petals were made of metal and had synthetic pearl centers. The dresses were part of his Spring/Summer 2009 collection.

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There was also this striking dress by Christian Dior, part of Dior’s Autumn/Winter 1949-1950 collection. Although the dress itself was machine-sewn, the 45 petals that make up the skirt were hand-embroidered with sequins.

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This next dress, Yves Saint Laurent’s 1983 “sardine” dress, has a machine-constructed foundation but required approximately 1500 hours of handwork to create the appearance of fish scales.

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Another section of the exhibition demonstrated the use of feathers in design. There were some amazing dresses in this part of the exhibition, but because they were behind glass it was difficult to photograph. I did get a good shot of this evening dress by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, part of his Autumn/Winter 1965-1966 collection. The dress is trimmed in pink-dyed ostrich feathers.

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As visitors continue to explore, there is another section focusing on pleating. Here, technological innovations really contrast with more traditional forms of embellishment. One display shows three dresses from two designers and three different time periods, from left to right: Madame Gres (Alix Barton), from 1968; Madame Gres, from 1950-1955, and Iris van Herpen, from her Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

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Here’s a close of view of van Herpen’s design, with its 3-D printed details.

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These 2014 designs by Israeli designer Noa Raviv, which also contain 3-D printed details, captured my attention.

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These hand-pleated, hand-sewn, and hand-embroidered dresses from the 1920s and 1930s were gorgeous – the designer was Mariano Fortuny, from Spain.

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There were also several elegant dresses like this one from 1980, by American-born designer Mary McFadden. Unlike the Mariano Fortuny dresses, the McFadden dresses were machine-sewn and pleated, but then hand-embroidered and finished. I loved the McFadden’s choices of jewel tones, and the designs looked like they would not have been out-of-place in the English royal court centuries past.

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Those more traditional designs are contrasted with those of Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Here are a couple of my favorites, from the Spring/Summer 1990 and 1993 collections.

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The contrast between innovation and traditional techniques continues in the section of the exhibition that focuses on lace. Visitors will find beautiful examples of traditional lacework, such as this Spring/Summer 1963 suit by Yves Saint Lauren.

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But there are again numerous designs incorporating 3-D printing technology, such as the “Bahai” Dress by American designer Threeasfour, from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection. This dress is an interesting example of the exhibition’s overall theme, as the 3-D printed “lace” has been hand-embroidered onto a machine-sewn dress.

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Here is a detailed look at the “lace” from this dress.

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And here is another incredible example of a technologically-inspired design. This one is from Iris van Herpen’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection and is hand-embroidered with thermoformed laser-cut acrylic.

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There are so many more designs to see in the exhibition, but I thought I would end with this one last dress by Iris van Herpen, from her Autumn 2012 collection. On the surface, this dress may seem like it only represents the “machina” part of the exhibition theme, as it is obviously 3-D printed. But from the exhibit description I learned that the dress was hand-sanded and hand-sprayed with a special resin, so it actually represents both aspects after all. This dress really captures the imagination, even if it doesn’t fit our expectations of traditional fashion.

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If you are in New York City before the exhibition ends in August, I encourage you to see Manus x Machina for yourself. What I’ve included in this post is just a small sample of what you will see during your visit, and my photographs can’t fully capture how striking these designs really are. (Note: all special exhibitions are included in the Met Museum’s recommended ticket price of $25.00, so you can see both Manus x Machina and the many other incredible works on display at the museum.)

The best way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street, and then walk west to Fifth Avenue. You can also reach the museum by bus on the M1, M2, M3, or M4 routes. If taking one of these routes going north, you will travel up Madison Avenue to the 83rd Street stop. If coming from points further north, take one of these bus routes south along Fifth Avenue to the 82nd Street stop, right next to the museum. There is a parking garage for those who prefer to drive themselves, but the rates are pretty expensive.

Fashion at the Jewish Museum: Isaac Mizrahi Exhibition

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has some pretty amazing exhibitions, and as a result most people who decide to go to a museum to explore fashion design immediately think of the Met. But there are other great options in the city as well, including the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum and a wonderful temporary exhibition at the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum’s exhibition, on view through August 7, 2016, is titled Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History, and includes numerous beautiful designs, as well as some behind-the-scenes exhibits about his design process.

Here are a few photos showing some of the designs in the exhibition.

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I particularly liked this dress from 1994, made of hand-created aluminum “sequins” cut from Coca-Cola cans. I thought the design was innovative and resourceful. The dress has an interesting story behind it as well. According to the exhibition description next to this dress, a charity called “We Can” paid homeless New Yorkers to collect and flatten the Coca-Cola cans, before the cans were then sent to Paris to be turned into sequins for the dress.

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I also enjoyed these costumes designed for opera and theater productions.

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And here’s one shot of a few of Mizhari’s design sketches. I found this part of the exhibition very interesting.

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How can you get to the Jewish Museum? The museum is located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The closest subway stop is the 96th Street station, accessible from the 6 train. You can also take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 bus to the Madison Ave./E. 91st St. stop if heading uptown, or the 5th Ave./E. 92nd St. stop if heading downtown. Note: The Jewish Museum is free to the public on Saturdays, although its cafe is closed on Saturdays in observation of the Jewish Sabbath.

Fashion at the Met Museum: The Jacqueline de Ribes Exhibition

If you are interested in fashion, then the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Costume Institute exhibition is something that you will enjoy. Titled Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, the exhibition includes more than sixty haute couture and ready-to-wear designs as well as artifacts from de Ribes’s personal archives. An international fashion icon spanning several decades in the 20th century, De Ribes inspired prestigious designers to create haute couture gowns for her to wear for special events and media ops beginning in the 1960s, and she eventually ran her own design business in the 1980s and 1990s. The exhibition includes elegant examples of both her own and others’ elegant fashion designs – in the process also illustrating some of the major fashion trends decade by decade.

Here’s just a sample of what you will find at the Costume Institute’s exhibition. It really is a feast for the eyes, and the photos can’t really do it justice. First, although there were many beautiful gowns, there were also examples of luxurious daywear. I particularly loved the lines of this ensemble (even if I’m personally opposed to the use of fur).

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There are so many evening gowns, it’s hard to choose just one to feature here. But I want to leave plenty of surprises for when you visit the exhibition. For now, I’ve chosen this fuchsia gown, with its unusual silhouette and sparkling diamond ornamentation. You can see a few other colorful gowns in the background. Because the exhibition spans several decades, there are gowns of practically every color, solid and patterned, and with quite a variety of silhouettes.

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I learned one thing from my visit to the exhibition that I found particularly interesting. De Ribes is not constrained by a particular outfit as it is originally designed. Instead, she sometimes develops accessories or alter dresses and other clothing items so that she can create something entirely new, even mixing the work of multiple designers (including her own designs) to create something special and unique. Among the examples of her creative, artistic approach to design in the exhibition are some fabulous ensembles for costume balls, including the one in this photo:

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The Jacqueline de Ribes exhibition continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 21, 2016. Museum curators periodically lead  guided tours of the exhibition as well (free with the cost of admission to the museum); check the museum calendar to see if a tour will be offered on the date of your visit.

The best way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is by public transportation. If traveling by subway, take the 4, 5, or 6 train to 86th Street, and then walk west to Fifth Avenue. You can also reach the museum by bus on the M1, M2, M3, or M4 routes. If taking one of these routes going north, you will travel up Madison Avenue to the 83rd Street stop. If coming from points further north, take one of these bus routes south along Fifth Avenue to the 82nd Street stop, right next to the museum. There is a parking garage for those who prefer to drive themselves, but the rates are pretty expensive.