Monday, December 7, 2015

DENIM FASHION FRONTIER at The Museum at FIT: Review by Polly Guerin

Robert Cavalli, ensemble, embroidered denim, 2002
How does anyone explain the phenomenon of Denim fashion? Yves Saint Laurent in 1981, defined it all, "I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans, the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity---all I hope for in my clothes."
     From workwear to haute couture denim may be the most popular fabric in the world yet it continues to make a fashion statement even greater today. For an in depth look at how denim has captured its place of superiority in fashion check out this museum exhibit.
     Image: Robert Cavalli, ensemble, embroidered denim, Spring 2002, Italy, Gift of Robert Cavalli. Photograph courtesy of The Museum at FIT.
     The Museum at FIT's DENIM FASHION FRONTIER, at The Fashion Institute of Technology explores the multifaceted history of denim and its relationship with high fashion from the 19th century to the present. The recently opened exhibition features more than 70 objects from the museum's permanent collection, many of which have never been on view.
    Of course, we all are familiar with Levi Strauss's historical story as the first purveyor of blue jeans, but the even before that fact, denim was already being used to create workwear of all kinds. 
Walking Suit, striped denim, circa 1915 
The exhibit DENIM FASHION FRONTIER takes a wider view and juxtapositions examples of historic garments with workwear and high fashion, street style, commercial garments, and menswear and women's wear.  By the start of the 20th century denim had begun to appear in prison uniforms and naval uniforms, and then in fashionable women's wear during World War I. 
Image: Walking Suit, striped denim, circa, 1915, Courtesy of The Museum at FIT.
     Two distinct genres of lifestyle clothing helped link denim to the romance of the Old West and the American spirit: "Western Wear emerged parallel to the booming popularity of "cowboy" films and dude ranch vacationing while "play clothes" were designed to outfit fashionable men and women  who engaged in leisure activities.
    World War II ushered in "Rosie the Riveter" who became the poster girl of the home front, and simultaneously a new market blossomed with practical and fashion clothing for the affluent housewife, which included Claire McCardell's denim "Popover" dress.
     The influence of films also contributed to the denim craze like the 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, but the denim's worn by James Dean caused denim to be equated with teenage rebellion and delinquency.  About this time the Denim Council was established to combat these negative connotations.  I would also like to note that public relations guru Terry Mayer promoted denim for a number of years with a strong public relations campaign and fashion shows.
     Denim took on a different persona in the 1960's and identified with hippies whose trends outlived he movement, such as bell-bottom jeans, embroidered and patched denim, and faded, pre-worn jeans.  
Comme des Garcons (Junya Watanabe) dress
Who would ever thought that denim would become a luxury fabric?  Luxury items on fashion's runway included Gucci, Comme des Garcon, Katherine Hamnett, Gianfranco Ferre and Yves Sain Laurent, and others.

    Emma McClendon, assistant curator of costume and exhibition, and curator of DENIM FASHION'S FRONTIER wrote in the program notes,"Today, contemporary designers often incorporate denim through postmodern pastiche and deconstruction, taking apart classic denim garments and putting them back together as historic homages." 
Image: Comme des Garcons (Junya Watanabe) dress, repurposed denim, spring 2002, museum purchase. Photography by William Palmer.
    The exhibition is on view through May 7, 2016. FREE and open to the public at The Museum at FIT, Seventh Avenue and 27th Street. Hours Tuesday-Friday noon-8pm and Saturday, 10 am-5pm. The museums information line: 212.217.4558.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I once owned a denim dress, but  now I'm sorry I gave it away.  Denim Fashion's Frontier is a trip back to nostalgic memories of how denim played such an important part in fashion history and the lifestyle of the global population.  Fan mail always welcome Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the link in the left-hand column to the Blog of your interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment