|A silk crepe Art Deco jacket, circa 1926-1929, in front of a Paul Follot textile from 1926.|
Fashion and Technology is now on view at The Museum at FIT through May 8, 2013. 100 garments, accessories and textile samples examine how technological advances in fabrics, dyes, and manufacturing techniques have changed how and what clothes are made, as well as how they alter fashion. The exhibit, curated by Ariele Elia and Emma McClendon, spans the fashion spectrum from the 18th century to the present day. Some of the earliest pieces in the exhibit show how the invention of sewing machines revolutionized garment construction, with long seams sewn on the machine but more delicate details left to the precision of hand-sewing, as shown in the wonderfully preserved 1865 cream silk taffeta wedding dress, being exhibited for the very first time.
|This 1865 wedding dress was made by machine and hand. (And look at that tiny waist!)|
The accidental discovery in 1856 of aniline dyes by British chemist Sir William Henry Perkin meant that the color purple “very rare and difficult to produce” McClendon notes, and therefore reserved for royalty and the clergy, was now democratized, as the aniline dyes were much easier to mass produce.
|In the 1860s bright colors began to appear in clothes thanks to the discovery of aniline dyes.|
While “manufacturers of sports clothes and the military are the first users of technological advances in fabric,” McClendon says, fashion designers are quick to adapt new fabrics and manufacturing techniques into their work as well.
|A black 1937 evening suit, left, and an ivory 1924 dress, right.|
Both evening dresses above got their sparkle from the use of cellophane, a precursor to modern plastics, which was a breakthrough technology at the time.
|This 1955 Charles James dress uses a 3-foot long zipper that wraps around the body.|
Charles James began placers zippers on the bias in his work in 1929. The metal zipper incorporated into the velvet and satin evening dress above is 3-feet long and spirals around the body.
|A 1975 Halston ensemble, left, and a 1977 dress by Mary McFadden, right.|
Halston became known for his designs made in Ultrasuede, introduced in the 1970s by Toray, a Japanese company. Mary McFadden was able to achieve the amazing micropleating in this polyester dress from 1977 through the use of heat-set technology, which she pioneered in the 1970s. Prior to that designers had to hand-pleat silk, but the pleats often loosened over time. Heat-set pleating, meanwhile, is permanent.
|A Thierry Mugler dress of silver lamé from 1979.|
Some of the pieces on view show how designers are inspired by ideas of the future. For instance Thierry Mugler’s 1979 silver lamé dress combined a futuristic aesthetic with a body-conscious silhouette. Kenneth Richard’s printed blue vinyl ensemble from 1996 and Jean Paul Gaultier’s printed nylon/spandex jumpsuit from 1995-1996 both highlight the designers’ ideas of what the sartorial future looks like.
|A 1996 Kenneth Richard ensemble, left, and a Jean Paul Gaultier jumpsuit from 1995-96.|
|A 2011 silver dress by Gareth Pugh, left, and a 2012 Louise Gray dress using a QR code print.|
Gareth Pugh’s very futuristic silver polyurethane dress from 2011 actually contains a traditional tailoring technique—the slashes in the dress weren’t laser cut as they may appear but were done, says Pugh, “the good old-fashioned way—by hand, with a ruler and a blade.”
|The slashes in this polyurethane dress were done by hand!|
This fascinating exhibit provides a unique examination of how technological advances are quickly adapted by and incorporated into the world of fashion. And what a rare treat, to able to see a pristine Civil War-era wedding gown, a Charles James showstopper (you know how I love me some Charles James), and Halston and McFadden designs (among many others) all in the same exhibit—each designer, each unknown dressmaker and tailor, having ferried all of us into the future.
Fashion and Technology runs through May 8, 2013.
The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
New York NY 10001-5992