The doors of the museum opened to a dark room with limited lighting.
The anticipation of what’s coming next was taken care of as I walked into the “Gothic Exhibition” at the Fashion Institute of Technology on 7thAvenue. The Gothic Exhibition showcases a collection of designs inspired by the Gothic Culture. While some dresses are borrowed by infamous lenders for the museum, the others are creations by well known fashion designers.
The first thing I noticed as I walked in was a book titled “Dark Glamour” written by the curator of the Museum Dr Valerie Steele. The book provides detailed information on the history of Gothic Culture and its mysticism that attracts the fashion designers all over the world. The book which is a museum copy officially releases 28th of September.
However, to enrich the experience of the exhibit, the curator provides us with sufficient information on large sheets of paper pasted to the walls (written in old English text and purposely burnt in edges for the historic feel) assuring you will not be lost in translation.
The idea of the theme grows into you from the time you meet eyes with the first mannequin in the hall. Props like coffins, cracked mirrors, and ancient furniture make up for the distinctive arrangement. The sets incorporate several mannequins at once and are placed facing each other in gesturing poses- as if horror movie paused in the middle of a scene. On the contrary, none of the mannequins had creepy or devilish faces- in fact they were extremely normal.
The arrangement in the introductory hall invoked the feeling of suspense and thrill- as if every set-up in the ring had a story behind it. Do not miss the mannequin in a red ballroom gown –literally clean faced and deprived of facial organs. She is accompanied by a lady stylishly dressed in a black knee length evening wear and walking out of a coffin- as if the two were headed out for a girl’s night out
The eerie atmosphere and expressions of the mannequins erased my awareness of being in a museum. I was escorted into a different world of fashion, associated with dark emotions- like pain, loneliness, hatred, lust etc- as if the seven sins were personified in a large hall.
In short– it was fashion paranoia
As I walked into the second room, I became oblivious to the dominance of dark colors in clothing, accessories, and backgrounds. Black, especially, seemed like more than just an obvious choice. In fact for this particular exhibit it was more than a color – it was a language of communication.
The second hall showcased creations by Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, and Chanel. This set up clearly delivered the message and defined the connection between fashion and dark glamour. It did not take me too long to catch a classic Dior couture, casted on a mannequin beside the creation of Alexander McQueen- both of them creations from fall’07.
As I scanned my memory, I realized the rarity of such a collection. I could not recall the last time I saw gothic designs on the runway. But then, dark glamour is maybe just one of the many infatuations in a flirtatious world of fashion. In other words, adapting gothic culture in their apparel is a momentary appeal for the designers rather than compulsion.
Presumably, that’s what motivated this exhibit- the infrequency of such a theme.
The museum at FIT established in the 1960’s is known for its versatility- their exhibits are seldom repetitive and most of them are theme based. While the winter of 2008 featured designs from the veterans of world fashion from Europe and Asia, the mid April opened up to the shoe exhibit displaying the work of Christian Loubotin.
Simultaneously running with Dark Glamour is another exhibit which is strikingly different, and is called “Arbiters of Fashion- Women at the forefront of style” – devoted to women achievers.
According to Dr. Valerie Steele “the museum is a centre dedicated to advancing knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, programs and publications”- which also turns out to be their mission statement. As she also says in the website “the museum collects, conserves, documents, exhibits and interprets fashion”. Dr Steele has been the curator at FIT for ten years now and jointly runs educational programs at the museum.
Jennifer Stone, a third year design student at FIT, who has witnessed nine different themes in her academic years, said “I have grown up watching their work, and it’s amazing the way they help you understand fashion. It’s a visual translator of a language that sometimes can be complicated to deduce”.
The exhibit can be viewed as fashion paranoia- an unusual form of art. I say it is a daring effort-to indulge people in a fashion exhibit that is built on emotions that are negatively perceived. But the ambience says nothing derogatory about the inspiration or the Gothic Culture. What an individual makes of it is left to his/her imagination.
For me, it was like visiting a high fashion cult tea party- arranged by the corpse brides of the Upper East Side. Interesting, no?
NOTE: The exhibit opened up on the 5th of September and stays until February next year. The museum hours and other important information can be found on their website at www.fitnyc.edu.