Since the opening of this blog I have often dealt with the topic of how a quality dress that lasts over time, perhaps modified or readjusted or held in spite of imperfections or worn-out, challenges the concept of fashion as a strictly ephemeral, disposable commodity. That is the similar idea behind the exhibition entitled ‘Fashion Unraveled’ which opened last May 25th at the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York and which explores the roles of memory and imperfection in fashion, bringing simultaneously to light the deeply personal and physical relationships we have with our clothes.

It is a concept that reminds me a lot of the second issue of the Fashion Revolution fanzine ‘Loved Clothes Last‘ where, among ideas and possibilities to prolong the life of our clothes, there is also a love story with a garment that is dear to us. Although the theme of the FIT exhibition is not sustainability, it is inevitable not to think about how many possibilities exist in creating something new from the old and how desirable and fascinating the used or consumed is and in fact there is an entire market dedicated to it.

‘Fashion Unraveled’ is organized into five themes, with 60 objects More than sixty objects dating from the 18th century to the present; ‘Behind the Seams’ provides anecdotes on a garment’s creation or the way it was worn, ‘Mended and Altered’ focuses on the varied and sometimes imperceptible ways a garment was modified over its history, ‘Repurposed’ features clothing that has been entirely remade, while ‘Unfinished’ addresses garments that are incomplete, either by chance or by choice. Finally, ‘Distressed and Deconstructed’ discusses the ways in which designers have consciously embraced an aesthetic of imperfection in their work. In general all of the featured objects question our preconceived notions of beauty and value in fashion, and shed light on the importance of the stories that can be told by the garments themselves.

Although all five are interesting, it is above all two the sections that are closer to the themes dealt with by eco-à-porter; ‘Mended and Altered’ goes well with the concept of maintaining over time a garment that for various reasons we want to continue to use and the reparations make more sense and success on a garment that has a good quality, both from the point of view of textiles and production. The reasons for mending and reparations can be various: either the adaptation to new trends, perhaps in terms of lines and volumes, or a particular use, perhaps for the theater or for the cinema or, in fact, for an exhibition or simple personal reasons, like the sentimental ones I mentioned before. It is surprising, however, how the reparations on clothes were already widespread in times really distant to us, as evidenced by this corset in multicolored silk brocade dated around 1750, where the stays have been enlarged to add panels of different fabric at the waist; the museum assumes that the alteration may have been made to suit the changed figure of its original wearer, but also because the stays were passed down to someone else or sold in the secondhand market. Wow, in 1700, wonderful!


Multicolor brocaded silk, circa 1750, France, 68.144.14, gift of Miss Adele Simpson – courtesy of The Museum at FIT


The other section where you can find the concepts dear to sustainable fashion is ‘Repurposed’ that is the readjust pre-existing clothes or fabrics into something new and of greater value, in other words reuse, upcycling! Among the representative garments, the museum exhibits this jumpsuit that the designer Betsey Johnson has made with colorful patches of striped fabric cut from rugby shirts worn by John Cale, who was then the designer’s husband and a member of the rock band The Velvet Underground. Johnson remains known for her vibrant and eclectic aesthetic.

Multicolor cotton jersey, 1966, USA, 90.173.1, gift of Betsey Johnson – courtesy of The Museum at FIT


On the site of the museum you can find many other images related to these two sections about which I talked and of course also the other three, with the various captions on characteristics, epochs, people to which the garments refer. Of course the ideal would be to visit it live, so for those who can fly to New York by November 17, I think this is an exhibition not to be missed!

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