By Elissa Gilbert. Photos by Museum at FIT.
The upstairs exhibit at the Museum at FIT is called Denim: Fashion’s Frontier. The exhibit includes the prosaic denim blouses worn by Rosie the Riveter and stretches to an elegant white and black denim gown, plus slightly vintage ads by Jordache and Calvin Klein. But today nearly 1/2 the world is wearing jeans at any given moment. No matter how decorated the jeans are—even customized with beads and feathers—denim is inescapably a routine part of modern life.
Follow the steps to the downstairs exhibit—through a doorway with an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired image—and you’ve tumbled into a fairytale world, where clothes are anything but routine.
Fairytales and fashion are inextricably entwined, whether in the name of the story (Little Red Riding Hood, The Red Shoes) or the plot (Cinderella’s glass slippers, here glittering with Swarovski crystals), not to mention all the courtly dresses and ballgowns worn by mysterious princes and princesses. The Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit shows a range of spectacular garments closely or loosely inspired by the stories and made real, if not wearable (Noritaka Tatehana’s 3D-printed Impossible slipper).
Little Red Riding Hood is a primal tale of fear of the woods, a wolf, and a blood-colored robe, and her story dominates the entrance to the exhibit, with one red cloak outside the exhibit hall and five more inside. They range from a traditional 18th century cloak to Comme des Garçons’ 2015 version with an enormous woven patent leather hood; the body of the cloak suggests the wolf has already shredded the fabric.
A display tied to Beauty and the Beast includes real 18th century court clothes, plus furry Louboutin fantasy shoes that turn feet into paws. What from a distance looked like an abstract soft green flower print on a gown resolves into claws when seen up close. A delicate dress by Rodarte adorned by 3D roses is stunning; it would make any wearer the Belle of the ball.
The show’s 15 tales reach beyond the Brothers Grimm, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty to include modern stories like Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz. Outfits tied to the Wizard of Oz reflect Kansas in a simple gingham dress, but Judy Garland would never have made it to the Emerald City if her ruby slippers had been the stiletto-heeled Louboutins the show displays. The outfits from Alice look like they were designed by the Mad Hatter, with the white rabbit’s watch (looking a bit melted like Salvador Dali’s) along with scattered playing cards.
Some of the clothes are elegant enough to wear to the Academy Awards, like a Dolce and Gabanna gown hand-painted with roses for Snow White and Rose Red. It’s harder to figure out an appropriate occasion for some other garments, like Hideki Seo’s Queen of Hearts dress in puffy pieces of vinyl.
Along with the clothes, the exhibit includes a display of fairytale-inspired photography and images of fairytale fashion from the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines. It’s impossible to leave the exhibit without reviving your childhood “princess” dreams.