Expression Reformed

Is Fashion Modern? The title question of MoMA’s upcoming exhibition could send one spiralling into a frenzy of paradoxical reasoning. To define either term would require an understanding of the other, as well as of the relationship between the two, there are thus several interpretations that may be applied. However, instead of picking a single strand, the show deals with a holistic exploration of fashion, not simply documenting its changing trends but the effects beyond the design. It is the space’s first fashion-based event since architect and curator Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 investigation Are Clothes Modern? The cyclical reprisal is testament to the underlying message of the fluidity of design.

The ambitious show features 111 garments and accessories from the last century, spanning the entire sixth floor of the museum. Whilst Rudofsky’scuration  confronted the traditional conventions of WWII,  this revival exhibition exhibits  original prototypes which look towards the future of experimentation. The shift from Rudofsky’s more narrowly focused objectives express how the history surrounding the industry, or even one of its subsections, cannot be constrained into a single outfit. As Senior curator Paola Antonelli explains: Fashion “negotiates  form and function, means and goals.” Style has grown to  represent an intricate social system, one that involves politics, economics and technology as much as it does culture and creativity.

As such, the selected items are a window into a strand of a complex network, each of the “typologies” embodying a particular clothing archetype. Concept pieces, such as the little black dress, are represented across a number of paradigms, becoming almost autonomous Fashion is shown to be in a constant state of flux, with various motifs, silhouettes and conceptions retaining their impact whilst being reincarnated across various decades.

Each room is thematically organised and, due to the various conceptual layers, the relations between the pieces are both accidental and intended. An example of a predetermined juxtaposition is that between the simplicity and functionality of the Wonderbra and Issey Miyake’s A-POC, an extravagant dress worn by several models simultaneously. The narrative runs cohesively across the rooms, starting with a concentration on the figure – a natural starting point for any outfit – continuing to the less organic, following technological innovations and closing with a final flurry of imagination from designer and Accurat founder Giorgia Lupi. In these final moments, the diverse pieces create a lasting reminder of just how sophisticated the scope of design has become.

Items: Is Fashion Modern? opens 1 October. For more information:

1. A-POC Le Feu, by Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara, from the Issey Miyake spring/summer 1999 collection. Photograph by Yasuaki Yoshinaga. Courtesy A-POC LE FEU, 1999 Spring Summer ISSEY MIYAKE Paris Collection. Photo: Yasuaki Yoshinaga.