By chance I managed to sneak in a guide tour of Fashion, A-Z Highlights from the Collections of the Museum at FIT, part 2. The fashions on display are organized alphabetically—from Adrian, Balmain, and Comme des Garçons all the way through the alphabet—to give visitors a sense of the range of the museum’s collection across contemporary fashion (more than 50,000 garments and accessories). 

This display is not exactly exciting but I begun to understand why America is obsessed with French fashion (to be fair, let’s say European fashion because Akris, a handful of Italian brands, McQueen and Vivienne Westwood were also presented). The curator started talking about a 2002 Pierre Balmain dress designed by Oscar de la Renta – the first American designer ever to get appointed by a French couture house. There were glamorous long gowns from Hollywood costume designers Adrian and Irene too, who both took their ideas to the street thanks to starlettes feeling so fabulous in their clothes. 

A ‘73 body hugging Stephen Burrows (a former dancer) dress with vivid colours was the first colour blocking dress. Burrows was involved in a 1973 fashion show in Palace de Versailles that pitted American & French designers against one another. A comfy and chic twin-set dress by quintessential seventies designer Halston; a formal casual seventies coat by Calvin Klein, Ralf Lauren dresses (hmm a bit shocking to see these next to YSL); a Norman Norell hand-stitched sequin mermaid dress – the most expensive clothes ever produced in the States; a party dress by socialite Carolina Herrera and one splendid 1955 silk taffeta dress by Charles James. 

As a mother and working girl, Diane Von Furstenberg moved masses of comfortable and sexy wrap dresses. But nothing compares to the most exquisite 1929 silk chiffon and rhinestones dress by Jean Patou, easily as popular as Chanel in the roaring 20s. Presenting a casual elegance, he seemed to have understood it all. He travelled to the US to study what he termed the « American Diana ». He claimed that American women with slender, athletic figures were better suited than their European counterparts to his elegant sporty designs… 

Jean Patou died suddenly in 1936, but his spirit lived on through a string of notable designers at House of Patou – Marc Bohan, Karl Lagerfeld, Michel Goma, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Christian Lacroix. The firm no longer produces clothing but a luxury fragrance, Joy.  Perhaps an American designer in this context would have worked better…

FIT Gallery, Fashion Institute of Technology until Nov 10th, 2012

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