Fairy Tale Fashion
Power. Vanity. Greed. Innocence. Truth. Strength. These are all characteristics of our fictional fairy tale friends and enemies. And their clothes – from magnificent velvet capes and long pointed nails to sad little dresses in tatters – are representative of exactly what the characters are like within. (If only people were that transparent everyday.) The Museum at FIT celebrates these traits with an entire exhibit dedicated to how fairy tales have influenced designer fashion, Fairy Tale Fashion. It is like a witch’s gingerbread house – sickly sweet with an undercurrent of evil.
The main gallery space uses fashion to illustrate 15 classic fairy tales. The section on “Rapunzel” includes a stunning dress from Alexander McQueen’s fall 2007 collection, made from deep emerald velvet embellished with copper-colored beads that create a motif of cascading hair. It was part of a collection inspired by witches. This dress shows the power associated with hair – especially blonde hair – in folklore and mythology.
The center of the gallery is dominated by Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Many illustrators of the story show Sleeping Beauty in pale, flowing gowns that resemble this sprint 2012 evening gown by Marchesa.
“The Little Mermaid” and “The Swan Maidens” are explored in the Sea section of the exhibition. Undercover’s spring 2015 collection featured numerous swan-inspired designs, one of which is now in the collection of The Museum at FIT—an especially detailed ensemble comprised of a feather-printed miniskirt worn beneath a tutu hand-painted with plumage. It is paired with a motorcycle-style jacket with sleeves made from laser-cut silk “feathers.” The fantasy of the mermaid is inspiring to many designers. Speaking about their spring 2015 collection, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte said, “Mermaids poignantly remind us of all the great mysteries of the ocean, all of its beauty and melancholy…[they] poetically capture the spirit of the sea.” The exhibition also highlights two fairy tales that take place in Parallel Worlds—Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Although the story of Alice makes little reference to clothing, there is a distinct “Wonderland aesthetic” that has influenced fashion. Here there’s a playful, bright blue mini-dress by Manish Arora, adorned with fabric playing cards that reference the Queen of Hearts and her playing card army. By contrast, The Wizard of Oz makes numerous references to fashion, including Dorothy Gale’s blue-and-white gingham frock, represented by a checked cotton dress from the early 1940s by Adrian, who also designed many of the costumes for the famous 1939 movie.
In The Red Shoes, a young girl named Karen becomes obsessed by a pair of red shoes. She wears them to a dance at a ball, leaving behind the gravely ill old woman who cares for her. Karen soon finds that she cannot stop dancing, nor can she remove the red shoes. The only way to be freed from them is to have her feet chopped off at the ankle. Hans Christian Andersen specifically describes a pair of red shoes made from Morocco leather, a thin, supply materials commonly used for bookbinding during the 19th century. At this time, bright red was a difficult color to achieve, so read shoes were a luxurious commodity.
All images are All + Sundry. Text after the jump from the pamphlet provided by The Museum at FIT. Fairy Tale Fashion is on display at the Museum of FIT (for free!) through April 16, 2016.