Visiting the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology

As one of the most fashion-conscious cities in the world, New York is the perfect place to get immersed in the fashion scene, rub shoulders with industry representatives and draw continuous inspiration from its streets. The best thing about the city is that it offers countless opportunities to do so without breaking the bank. Located right in the heart of Manhattan, on 7th Avenue, is Fashion Institute of Technology, one of the best and most renowned fashion schools in the world. What you might not know is that you can get a feel of the experience without hefty tuition fees – as the school has its own fashion museum which can be visited completely for free.

With an estimated 100,000 visitors each year, the Museum at FIT regularly changes its exhibits to provide fresh and informative insight into the ever-changing world of fashion. We managed to catch two exhibitions that are currently on display: Minimalism/Maximalism and Paris, Capital of Fashion.

Minimalism/Maximalism

The first exhibition focuses on the extremes in the sartorial world, and how minimalist and maximalist aesthetics have intertwined throughout the course of fashion history. In the words of the exhibition’s curator, fashion perfectly exemplifies Newton’s third law of motion – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s hard not to agree with this statement, as fashion is a very accurate representation of the ongoing cultural, social, technological and economic changes.

If we take a closer look at the history of fashion, we can determine alternating periods of restrain and excess, and the events that propelled these shifts. The wartime period had its reflection in the streamlined, minimalist designs that Coco Chanel became synonymous with, including the legendary cardigan jacket. On the other hand, the Great Expansion of the 1980s found an outlet in the extravagant garments championed by Gianni Versace.

Dresses on display at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York

There are fashion designers who identify themselves solely with one end of the spectrum – Calvin Klein is recognised for his clean lines, while John Galliano’s opulent designs for Dior can be easily distinguished from those of the fashion house’s other creative directors. Minimalists accuse maximalist designers of the elevation of form over substance and verging on kitsch, while they respond to these claims saying that minimalist approach restricts the imagination. Regardless of whether we personally lean more towards the “bigger equals better” or “less is enough” stance, we have to admit that the co-existence of these two extremes is crucial to move fashion forward and take it to new heights.

The exhibition begins in the 18th century with a range of extravagant garments of the Rococo era, made of luxury silk fabrics and detailed with elaborate embellishments. It takes visitors through the 19th and early 20th century, when women started to play a larger role in the society and the lines between women’s and men’s fashion began to diverge. Then, it presents the clothing of the crisis- and war-ridden 1920s-1940s, which cut the rising maximalist tendencies short, before moving on to the hyper-femininity of the post-war period.

19th century garments on display at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York

It also shows how garments were used as marketing tools during the 60s and acknowledges the influence of mind-altering drugs on fashion expression of the 70s, countered by the growing dance culture which popularised the freedom of movement over complex forms.

There are sections dedicated to the “power dressing” of the 80s which challenged the traditional concept of good taste, as well as the “invisible luxury” of the 90s centered around simple styles and toned-down colours.

With the advent of the Internet, fashion reached a whole new level which can be seen in the last two sections of the exhibition showcasing contemporary designs. Theatrical and fantastical garments became increasingly popular, with many designers experimenting with shapes, colours and patterns more than ever and taking fashion to the extreme.

We can observe growing environmental awareness and changing aesthetic boundaries, causing the definitions of minimalism and maximalism to be continually redefined. A case in point are the Balenciaga Triple S shoes, which are also on display and have enjoyed undying interest despite allegations of being the world’s ugliest shoes (which I personally couldn’t agree more with).

Although small, the exhibition managed to capture the essence of fashion cycles and aesthetic shifts over the years perfectly, inspiring me to think about the direction in which fashion is headed.

Paris, Capital of Fashion

As the name suggests, the second exhibition is dedicated to exploring how Paris earned the title of a fashion capital and influenced the international industry landscape. Rather than focus solely on the history of French royalty and legendary fashion designers, the exhibition places a lot of emphasis on the cultural components as well.

It traces fashion history from the establishment of the royal court of Versailles, through the beginnings of haute couture with the opening of Charles Worth’s atelier in Paris, to contemporary fashion creations. An 18th-century robe à la française is displayed alongside a haute couture Christian Dior dress inspired by Marie Antoinette herself.

By showcasing the creations of designers such as Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld, the exhibition highlights the role immigrants played in shaping the Parisian fashion scene.

There were two main things that caught my attention during the exhibition. First of them was the role of licensing in fashion. During the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII, fewer and fewer wealthy Americans came to shop at the city’s luxury boutiques, while many fashion houses moved away or even closed down. It was at that time that special licensing agreements became popular, allowing copies of Parisian creations to be sold in American stores. To illustrate this phenomenon, the exhibition features three nearly identical tweed suits – one is an original Chanel design, the second is a licensed copy, while the third is a counterfeit.

Three Chanel tweed suits (an original, licensed copy and a counterfeit) on display at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York

The second was the section dedicated to the so-called “Battle of Versailles” of 1973, a face-off between French and American fashion designers in which each group got to present eight runway looks. To many people’s surprise, Americans proved victorious over the French, turning the eyes of the fashion world to America.

Dresses prepared for the Battle of Versailles on display at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York

Still, as the exhibition aims to show, Paris maintains its title of world capital of fashion. With many luxury conglomerates headquartered in the city and countless fashion designers choosing to present their collections there, it doesn’t look like Paris is going to give up the crown anytime soon.

Dresses on display at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York

Disney on Broadway x FIT Design Challenge 

As we left the museum, I noticed that the building next door also had a number of garments on display and decided to go inside. As it turned out, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, Disney on Broadway partnered with the Fashion Institute of Technology to create a design challenge for the students. They were faced with the task of reimagining the costumes for the leading female characters of 10 Disney on Broadway shows, and designing outfits they could potentially wear in real life.

Each student created two looks for their character of choice. 10 FIT Fashion Design students were selected from nearly 100 submissions and got to showcase their outfits at the school’s Art and Design Gallery, along with their sketches and mood boards.

Sketches and a mood board at the Disney on Broadway x FIT Design Challenge Exhibition in New York

I was in utter awe of their designs and couldn’t believe that there were some second- and third-year students among the finalists. If you placed these creations alongside those of established fashion designers, I’m honestly not sure if I would be able to tell the difference!

If you’re ever in the area and are as fascinated with fashion as I am, I couldn’t recommend this museum enough! It provides a lot of useful knowledge without overloading you with information – it took less than an hour to visit all of the exhibitions mentioned in this post. The best part is that the museum’s website features online versions of each exhibition in case you are not able to attend or would like to go through the information once more at your own pace. I would love to go back for a quick fashion fix next time I’m in New York!

For information about current and future exhibitions, as well as opening hours, go to the Museum’s website.

Which exhibition did you find most interesting and why? What are your favourite designs?

28 Comments

  1. November 23, 2019 / 11:47 am

    This looks amazing! I don’t know much about fashion but I’m really interested in comparing the trends over the years and I love the evolution of design. When I visited the V&A in London I spent hours in the fashion design section! I’ve never been to New York but if I go this will definitely be something to check out – it’s a bit of a hidden gem and I’m amazed it’s free! I really love the sound of the Paris exhibition but that Disney one is unreal! Such a cool concept and some of the designs are amazing.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 25, 2019 / 8:49 am

      Thank you so much for your comment, lovely! I can totally relate – I find it fascinating to observe how trends have been shifting over the years, especially when you think about various external factors that propelled these shifts, and I could easily spend hours at the V&A too.
      I also couldn’t agree more about the hidden gem part – I feel like this museum is really underrated, which is why I wanted to dedicate a separate post to the exhibitions. The Disney one was really impressive, I couldn’t believe those outfits were designed by the students!

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 14, 2019 / 9:37 am

      I agree, I love that they make fashion easily accessible to everyone!

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 11, 2019 / 7:03 pm

      I’m so glad you liked it – it was such an interesting approach to Parisian fashion!

  2. Alice Spake
    November 8, 2019 / 4:37 pm

    Oh my gosh! I would have to add this on my list to visit – I went to the Dior V&A exhibition and it was absolutely fascinating and this really reminds me of it xx

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 11, 2019 / 7:02 pm

      I went to the Dior V&A exhibition too and I absolutely loved it – the attention to detail was incredible! I would highly recommend this museum as well xx

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 11, 2019 / 6:59 pm

      So do I, can’t wait to go back!

  3. Kayleigh Zara
    November 7, 2019 / 1:11 am

    I think it’s absolutely incredible that the museum is free to everyone, it means that these amazing bits of history will be watched by everyone. I really like the look of everything you’ve posted x

    Kayleigh Zara 🥂✨ http://www.kayleighzaraa.com

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 7, 2019 / 7:32 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and I couldn’t agree more!

  4. November 4, 2019 / 11:31 am

    What an incredible museum! And FREE? Even better! I think it’s amazing that the college has this to give people a taste of the industry. The minimalist / maximalist part was really interesting – I’m much more of a minimalist in general, in what I wear and how I live (I don’t like clutter!) so I’m definitely on that end of the spectrum. HOWEVER, I think 80’s fashion is incredible. Couldn’t pull it off myself though! x

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:37 pm

      I know right, I was prepared to pay to visit a fashion museum in NYC, so I was pleasantly surprised! Not gonna lie, being there made me wish I could be one of the students. 🙂
      I can totally relate – I usually go for simple styles and I feel uncomfortable when my room gets messy, but I appreciate bolder looks and I have a soft spot for haute couture!

  5. November 4, 2019 / 12:08 am

    I loved looking through all these photos! Even though I love Paris and Parisienne style, I’m most interested in the Minimalism / Maximalism exhibition. I much prefer simple looks but really appreciate the work of artists like Gianni. It’s so interestung how fashion adapts in each decade depending on issues affecting society. I guess right now, we’re in the midst of both minimalism and maximalism – the fast-fashion extreme and the people pushing away from it. Fantastic post and thank you for sharing. 🙂
    Laura / https://thestyleoflaurajane.com/

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:31 pm

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed reading this post! 🙂 I couldn’t agree more – when it comes to my personal style, I prefer simple looks and natural colours, but I really appreciate the legacy of incredible designers who swayed towards maximalism.
      I found these fashion cycles fascinating as well – until I visited the exhibition, I wasn’t fully aware of how regularly these shifts occurred and how correlated with social issues they were. And you’re absolutely right, the lines between minimalism and maximalism are currently more blurred than ever!

  6. November 3, 2019 / 11:39 pm

    This looks absolutely amazing, how interesting! Definitely going on my New York wishlist!

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:42 am

      I’m glad to hear that – let me know if you decide to go there!

  7. Erin
    November 3, 2019 / 11:11 pm

    Oh wow it just looks incredible! I love a museum, they are SO lovely!

    Erin || MakeErinOver

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:41 am

      So do I, and this one is such a great source of knowledge!

  8. katy gilroy
    November 3, 2019 / 7:57 pm

    oh everything is sooooo pretty I love museums! x

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:38 am

      So do I – I would highly recommend this one!

  9. November 3, 2019 / 6:20 pm

    This is such an interesting read! I never knew about the whole “Battle of Versailles” before haha. I will definitely visit next time I go to New York! x

    Lily Loves | https://www.lilyloves.net

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:30 am

      Me neither – I found that section really fascinating! I would highly recommend the Museum at FIT!

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 4, 2019 / 8:27 am

      I would highly recommend it!

  10. November 3, 2019 / 9:46 am

    This is all so interesting! I’ve only ever visited a couple fashion museums in the UK, mainly because my aunt would drag a much younger me and my cousins in! I’m far more interested now though and I think Minimalism is my favourite, I’m a sucker for a classic line and neutral colours.
    Bella x – http://www.theruralsoul.com

    • Dominika
      Author
      November 3, 2019 / 2:57 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! If you have any museum recommendations, please feel free to send them my way – I haven’t been to a lot of museums in the UK and I would love to change that.
      As for the exhibitions, I totally agree with you – Minimalism is hands down my favourite, I’m all about those classic shapes, neutrals and pastels!

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