Sunday, March 20, 2016

FIT's Fairy Tale Fashion

Once upon a time (that is, the other day), we went to see the Fashion Institute of Technology's latest exhibition, Fairy Tale Fashion.  Fly, little darlings, to see this wonderful show.  You have until April 16, after which you might turn into pumpkins.

Little wonder that the cover page for the exhibition's pamphlet is of Red Riding Hood (photo by Eugenio Recuenco for Vogue Novias).  Not only is it one of the best known of the fairy tales, the red cloak is easily translatable to the style of just about any period.

This is so true that as visitors enter the exhibition, they are greeted by five red capes of different periods (as well as a wolf in grandma's nightgown.  The wolf mask might be by Wintercroft.  Buy and make your own here.)

The last cape, by Comme des Garcons, cannot possibly be appreciated in our photographs, so here's one taken on the runway.  The focus of the show was on fairy tales as design inspiration.  For the most part, labels at the exhibition explained the references, and did not give details about the materials, so we can't tell you what this was made of.

Beauty and the Beast was another source of inspiration.  At the bottom right of the photograph, a video screen plays Jean Cocteau's 1946 La Belle et La Bete (see it here).  In the center of the tableau are two mannequins dressed in the manner of the characters in the movie.

The most fun items in the tableau, however, might be the Louboutin shoes painted like lions' paws, with fur and claws, but if you look closely you'll also notice that the toe box has been shaped for four large rounded toes, as if a lion might actually wear them.  Somebody, make these in FLATS, please!

This costume, by Japanese designer Hideki Seo, and located in the Alice in Wonderland section, is entitled Queen of Hearts.  One of the most outlandish pieces in the exhibition, it is very much in keeping with the Japanese trend in cosplay, or costume play.  The brilliant graphics recall the playing cards in the book.  One very interesting feature of the design is the use of zippers.  Each of the cushions in the skirt has a zipper all the way down the center (for easy removal of the padding, for storage?), and there is also a zipper down the center of the shirt.

In a section entitled The Little Mermaid is this mermaid dress, by Thierry Mugler for his 1989 Atlantis collection.  It has Mugler's trademark unconventional details, such as the points at the top of the bodice, and the scales (gills?) that are not simply drawn on, but cut and sewn into the design.

Several dresses also had swan themes.  Left to right, Jean Louis Sabaji's dress appears to be feathered, but is actually made of strips of frayed fabric; Giles' dress was inspired by an automaton of a swan crafted in 1773; and the tutu of Undercover's dress, which recalls Swan Lake, was "printed, painted and laser-cut".

No collection of fairy tales would be complete without mention of Cinderella.  The low lighting of the exhibition hall could not do justice to this deliberately patched and fringed 1971 Giorgio di Sant'Angelo dress, so we borrowed a stock photo from FIT to better show it off.  Women of a certain age will remember the great craze for ethnic design, chamoix and the hand-made look in the 70s, all of which are evident here.

The updated Cinderella (Giles, 2012) is also in tatters, but made from synthetic material that stands up to what appear to be acid or burn-derived holes in the fabric.

Below, Yoshiki Hishinuma is a master at transforming material distress into an integral part of the design.  The label reads: "...made from sheer fabric coated with white film, torn by hand to create fringe.  Heat was then applied to the dress, resulting in a crimped and uneven texture." (Double click for greater detail.)

Snow White's evil stepmother plotted to arrange her death once she realized Snow White was fairer than she. Fans of the Disney version remember the wicked stepmother was the queen famous for asking her mirror "Who's the fairest of them all?" Although the stepmother ordered the huntsman to murder Snow White, he took pity on her and left her in the forest where she made her way to the seven dwarfs' cottage. This spectacular hand-painted gown by Dolce and Gabanna captured the glamour of the tale.

The evil stepmother made three additional attempts to kill Snow White, the first of which involved lacing her stays too tightly, to suffocate her. FIT exhibited two sexy corset dresses underscoring the seductive nature of asphyxia, one in purple by Dolce and Gabanna from 2014 and a second in red by Peter Soronen from 2007.

Another attempt by the wicked stepmother involved arranging Snow White's hair with a poisoned comb. The ivory Rick Owens dress on the right incorporated a regal upturned collar and dramatic poisoned comb headpiece. On the left, Rodarte's dramatic 2008 gown with long, draping train of Snow White's signature colors of white, red and black was constructed to resemble the appearance of blood in water.

They say that the third time is the charm.  As a result of the evil stepmother's third try, Snow White took a bite of the poisoned apple and lapsed into a coma. This luscious red and green crystal minaudiere by Judith Leiber was given pride of place in the exhibition.

Alice and Olivia's 2014 collection was inspired by fantasy. Designer Stacy Bendet's rhinestone studded black velvet gown clothed Snow White in her glass coffin. While she slept, awaiting Prince Charming's kiss, the seven dwarfs could merely view her beautiful slumber and weep and grieve.

Snow White's lesser known sister was Rose Red. Both were named for rose bushes in their mother's garden.  Although also sweet natured, Rose Red was higher spirited than her sister, preferring to frolic in the fields rather than do her chores.  The unrestrained rose appliques on the skirt and jacket help temper the tailoring of her 2013 Thom Brown ensemble.  Appearing with her is the Bear Prince. Despite his frightening appearance, the prince-cum-bear became a cherished friend of both sisters. No less than milliner Stephen Jones is responsible for the bear-shaped headpiece, which was one of a series of animal-inspired pieces which were paired with Thom Brown tailored suits as part of his 2014 collectionl

Many may be familiar with Hans Christian Anderson's story The Red Shoes thanks to the famous film starring Norma Shearer. The fairy tale itself lay down the back story of a poor young girl named Karen, adopted by a rick old woman, who became so obsessed with a pair of red shoes worn by a princess that she tricked the old woman into buying her a pair meant for an earl's daughter. To compound the crime, she wore them to her first communion. (The hussy!)  Worse still, she left behind the gravely ill old woman and wore the shoes to dance at a ball. Try as she might, at the end of the evening, Karen could neither stop dancing nor remove the shoes. In the movie version, she danced herself to death. In the gorier fairy tale, the only way for her to be freed from her crimson footwear was for an executioner to chop off both of her feet at the ankle. Yikes!

The tale specifically described red shoes fashioned from Moroccan leather, which, because of its suppleness, was used in the 19th century for bookbinding and footwear. Since bright red was an extremely difficult color to produce prior to the creation in the mid-1880s of chemical dyes, the red shoes in the story would have been particularly rare and luxurious. Pictured are the pair of circa-1805 red Moroccan leather shoes featured in the show.

Of particular interest to us was the Shoe Hat created by Stephen Jones which featured red satin toe shoes, a miniature version of the ones worn by Norma Shearer in the movie.

In many of the illustrations of Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen, she was portrayed in white fur. The mannequin in the exhibit was draped in a hooded cape by J. Mendel, comprised of six different pelts.

Despite the fact that she was shown wearing white, the Snow Queen was essentially an evil character. This Jean Paul Gaultier 2-piece evening outfit captured more of the Snow Queen's dark side.

According to the show's signage, snowflakes were linked to the "frigid mathematical perfection" of the Snow Queen's world. Symmetrical snowflakes cascading down this dress by Alexander McQueen were a beautifully constructed allegorical reference.

In this fairy tale, a demon shattered a mirror that he created to magnify bad things while distorting and shrinking the good things. Some of the shards became lodged in the eye and heart of a boy named Kay, turning him from nice to nasty. The Snow Queen endeared herself to him and then spirited him away to her castle, leaving his friend Gerda to launch an intensive search for him. Mirrors in fairy tales represent vanity, frivolity and affluence. In the Snow Queen, the shattering of the demon's nasty mirror into "millions and billions of bits" begot the superstition of bad luck associated with broken mirrors. Like this 2014 Tom Ford dress, the broken pieces also had a strange beauty of their own.

These 2011 shoes by Andreia Chaves were titled Invisible Shoes since their reflections helped them blend into their surroundings.

Jean's favorite tale by Charles Perrault involved one about a fairy who disguised herself first as a peasant and then as a rich woman in order to beguile two sisters and offer each a gift. The kind sister's resultant gift was to have flowers and gems spill from her lips whenever she spoke. Conversely, the mean sister was cursed to have snakes and toads spring from her mouth. Yoshiki Hishinuma's dress on the far left was constructed of sheer white polyester dress with a snake scale pattern which was coated and heat-processed to create a flaking, snakeskin-like appearance. The middle dress by Alexander McQueen was from his Spring 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection. The evening gown on the right was by Giles from his Spring 2015 collection.

We couldn't end without mentioning the wonderfully evocative scrims created for FIT's exhibition.  Below is the backdrop for the "Fairies" section, meant to conjure up the deep woods, and the magical, mystical, sometimes malevalent creatures that inhabit it.

This scrim forms the backdrop for The Wizard of Oz section (a video of the 1939 movie is playing just to the left of the red dress).  The tall slim buildings are probably meant to evoke the Emerald City.

Perhaps most fun of all was the backdrop for Alice in Wonderland, with a view down the very deep rabbit hole.  (Note the rabbit at the center, wearing a hilarious dress [in neoprene?] of playing cards, by Manish Arora.)

To quote The Beast from La Belle et La Bete, as he mounted his beautiful white steed:

"Va ou je vais, Le Magnifique.  Va!  Va!  Va!"  (Go where I'm going, Magnificent One.  Go!  Go!  Go!")

Go and see Fairy Tale Fashion!


  1. Thank you SO MUCH for this review!

  2. Moira Shearer, ladies, not the (fabulous) "Queen of [1930s] Hollywood" Norma Shearer. : )

  3. Fabulous! Thanks for sharing...

  4. Really wish I could have seen this exhibit in person so I thoroughly enjoyed the post. The cape is a spectacular piece in an exhibit that is a visual feast.

  5. This exhibition looks so creative and marvellous! I am very interested in fairy tales and I love seeing how they have been used as an inspiration for fashion.

  6. Wonderful, thank you! I do wish I expected to be in NY in the immediate future now!