Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Having a 'F.I.T.'

Left: Thierry Mugler 1989; Center: YSL 1990; Right: Ann Demeulemeester 1996

A new exhibit, ‘The Tailor’s Art’, opened yesterday at the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and runs through November 4th, and I attended the morning’s press preview. The main inspiration for ‘The Tailor’s Art’, according to Patricia Mears, was “menswear”. Ms. Mears is the research curator who organized the exhibit along with Fred Dennis, associate curator of Costume; Clare Sauro, assistant curator of Accessories; Lynn Weidner, technologist, Textiles, with the support of Chief Curator, Dr. Valerie Steele.

1948 Design by Elsa Schiaparelli

According to Ms. Mears, “We decided that we had never really explored menswear so we just wanted to look at what defines men’s clothing and it really is the suit, which has been the most modern (and dependable) wardrobe staple for centuries.” The way she sees it, “women’s fashion has always lagged behind men’s in terms of innovation and modernity, when you think about it.”

Alix Gres, 1950

“But we also realized that we didn’t want to just do a show about dark clothes. We wanted to show how menswear could be enlivened and how women’s clothes either followed their lead or were diametrically opposite. So we hoped to see recurring elements of silhouettes, as well as basic elements in the use of menswear fabrics” (like glen plaids, houndstooth checks, and tartans, the latter of which was indeed a recurring theme throughout). “And this was a wonderful way to include some of the textiles in our collection. We wanted to show a real historic overview, and that’s what this gallery is about. We wanted to take a simple idea, like the tailored suit, and turn it into a journey through fashion”.

Left: Roberto Cavalli woman's suit, 2002; Right: Man's 3 piece suit, French, 1785

To illustrate Ms. Mear’s point that “tailoring has not drastically changed over the last 250 years,” and “it remains relevant today because of its classic look and the fact that a tailored suit still conveys strength and modernity,” the ‘journey’ includes clothing and accessories which date from the mid 18th century up until the present, some bearing names like Balenciaga, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Adrian, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, Geoffrey Beene, Galliano, Versace, Westwood (who are known to be master tailors).

Left: Alexander Plokhov for Cloak; Right: Suit by Thom Browne; both from Fall 2006

It ends with two relative newcomers - both American menswear designers (Cloak’s Alexandre Plokhov and Thom Browne) who show their formal collections during New York Fashion Week, and who have quickly gained a following and a reputation as being master tailors themselves. Coincidentally, both, in addition to Ralph Lauren, have been nominated for Menswear Designer of the Year by the CFDA and the good news is that both will gladly make a custom ordered suit for a woman. For more information, contact, or

During the course of the press preview, the question arose whether or not the tailored suit, or the art of tailoring is in for a ‘comeback’ of sorts. Well, excuse me, but a beautifully cut suit (or jacket, or coat) has never gone out of style as far as I’m concerned. In fact, it’s hard not to look good in a beautifully tailored item. Fashion and style are all about appropriateness - having a sense of what is appropriate. There are times when a relaxed uniform comes in handy, but there are also times when calling on that beautifully fitted jacket is the order of the day.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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