Published: October 19, 2004
“Form Follows Fashion,” an exhibition currently on view through December 31 at The Museum at FIT, examines shape and structure, volume and proportion as they relate to fashion. The primary focus of this intriguing exhibition is how clothes may be considered as abstract, sculptural forms in the same way one would study a molded work of art.
Approximately 100 ensembles are on view. They include garments from such contemporary avant-garde Japanese fashion designers as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Junya Watanabe. In contrast to narrative or representational fashion design, which is inspired by a theme, such as Anglomania, abstract fashions are primarily about formal qualities. For example, Kawakubo devoted an entire collection to formal variations on the skirt. This exhibition also features the work of couturiers with a sculptural or architectural vision, such as Cristóbal Balenciaga and Mme Grès. One of the highlights is Charles James’s famous “Abstract” or “Four-Leaf Clover” ball gown, a masterpiece of structural engineering designed in 1953.
The title of the exhibition – “Form Follows Fashion” – deliberately changes the famous dictum “form follows function.” Coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan, the slogan has become central to the functionalist philosophy of design. Strongly associated with modernism, design functionalism blended the Darwinist idea about fitness for purpose with an emphasis on machine technology. Whatever its validity with respect to architecture and product design, much debated, the functionalist philosophy has had relatively little impact on fashion design. Some of the clothes on display are more functional than others, but viewers will be struck more by the visual strangeness and beauty of the fashions than by any fitness of purpose.
The Museum at FIT is on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. For information, 212-217-5800 or www.fitnyc.edu/museum.
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