Kirsty Mitchell, The Storyteller, from the Wonderland series.
The world of fashion is, in itself, a fairytale to many. But for Colleen Hill, associate curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT), the wonderland of fairy stories is a potent source of inspiration for designers. For the young talents at FIT, the magical sphere of myths and fables can prove to be the necessary impetus to unleash their inner creative spirits, much like waking up the sleeping beauty within.
FIT’s recently opened exhibition titled Fairy Tale Fashion acts as a visual demonstration of the impact of fairy stories in fashion and life at large. Hill and her team are featuring up to 80 objects in the exhibition illustrating different characters of the famous fables and folklore of Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm Brothers, and Charles Perrault. The dramatic settings are created by celebrated architect Kim Ackert.
Manish Arora, dress, 2010 (remade 2015), France.
Visitors walk–through a forest–to meet Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White before reaching a castle housing Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen and Cinderella. They continue exploring the sea section to meet the Little Mermaid and The Snow Maidens. Finally, they reach the parallel worlds to be greeted by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
Garments and accessories dating from 18th century to the present day are displayed around the show. Some leading labels, like Tom Ford, Giles, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Mary Katrantzou, Marchesa, and Alexander McQueen, among others, have filled the main gallery with their fantastical creations. But these form only one part of this positively chimerical exhibition.
Kirsty Mitchell’s much acclaimed Wonderland series of photographs make an appearance here. Vivid illustrations by Arthur Rackham, A. H. Watson and Edmund Dulac touch us with their poignancy. Once more, we feel the intensity of this dreamlike state however short lived. Perhaps there lies our connection with these fairytales, something that this exhibition helps to remind us. However, we were keen to have Hill’s opinion about fairytale’s impact on the mainstream fashion and beyond.
When this question was put across to her, she was prompt in presenting her views, “Fairytales are both familiar and fascinating, and we all have some sense of what comprises a fairytale aesthetic. Whether designers reference fairytales consciously or subconsciously, the beautiful and magical elements of these stories – in addition to their sinister undertones – have made a substantial impact on clothing design.”
left: Comme des Garçons, ensemble, spring 2015, Japan.
right: Judith Leiber, minaudière, fall 2013
Come to think of it, why should it be only high fashion? Aren’t most of our inner transformations often reflected in the way we dress? Often these changes are more discreet than Cinderella’s trading off her garb for a ball gown or the proverbial ugly duckling finally coming to appreciate his real beauty, but nonetheless, they are there. Perhaps, as Hans Christian Andersen would have liked to explain this saying, “life itself” happens to be “the most wonderful fairytale.”
The exhibition will continue till mid-April. So if you are in New York, you still have just enough time to pay a visit to the Museum and appreciate its collection of 50,000 garments and accessories besides the exhibition itself.