The items of cloth­ing we can’t live with­out be­come a new MoMA ex­hibit.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Nancy Won

A MoMA ex­hibit iden­ti­fies the fashion items we can’t live with­out.

A plain white T-shirt isn’t usu­ally the kind of thing that gets put on dis­play, but this year, the ba­sic crew­neck will get a piece of the spot­light as one of the star fea­tures in a new ex­hi­bi­tion at The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York City.

Items: Is Fashion Mod­ern? (Oc­to­ber 1 to Jan­uary 28, 2018) is a col­lec­tion of 111 pieces of cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories deemed by MoMA to be im­por­tant ex­am­ples of mod­ern de­sign from the 20th and 21st cen­turies. Sur­pris­ingly, it’s only the sec­ond fashion-fo­cused ex­hibit to be put on by the mu­seum in its nearly-90-year his­tory. “When I started work­ing at MoMA 23 years ago, what I no­ticed was miss­ing was fashion,” Paola An­tonelli, se­nior cu­ra­tor of ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, tells me. “There was one gar­ment that had been ac­quired in an al­most hap­haz­ard way, but that’s all. Af­ter a while it started to gnaw at me, be­cause you can’t re­ally tell a his­tory of mod­ern de­sign with­out talk­ing about fashion.”

An­tonelli began keep­ing her own list (which she called “Gar­ments that Changed the World”) and slyly adding pieces to MoMA’s col­lec­tions—a 3-D-printed dress here, a parka there—when op­por­tu­ni­ties arose dur­ing con­ver­sa­tions about tech­nol­ogy, ty­pog­ra­phy and the like. One day, the di­rec­tor of the mu­seum asked if she had ever con­sid­ered cre­at­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion out of that list. “It started out as a feel­ing of ne­ces­sity, of a need for MoMA, that then be­came an ac­tual ex­hi­bi­tion and a man­i­festo,” says An­tonelli.

Fea­tured items range from Levi’s 501s to Yves Saint Lau­rent’s Le Smok­ing to Spanx to an In­dian sari. “We were looking for pieces that were ex­am­ples of good de­sign but also had in­flu­ence and rel­e­vance and were of con­se­quence—the feel­ing that if it didn’t ex­ist, it would be missed in the world,” says An­tonelli, who de­fines “mod­ern” as an at­ti­tude with which a per­son es­tab­lishes a pur­pose and pur­sues it with the ma­te­ri­als and tech­nol­ogy avail­able, hav­ing a de­sire to push things for­ward even just a lit­tle bit. “So, mod­ern to me can be a white T-shirt or the Comme des Garçons Body Meets Dress col­lec­tion, which was rev­o­lu­tion­ary in show­ing peo­ple that bod­ies don’t have to be a cer­tain way,” she says. “Maybe only 0.0001 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion had ac­cess to that col­lec­tion, but that deep re­flec­tion per­co­lated down to other de­sign­ers and then slowly but surely to main­stream stores—and sud­denly it was a part of the way every­body thinks.”

An­tonelli’s hope is that vis­i­tors will leave the show think­ing dif­fer­ently about what they wear. “I want peo­ple to no­tice and be more con­scious about what they’re putting on their bod­ies, both stylis­ti­cally and eth­i­cally,” she says. “I think what peo­ple will see from looking at these items is that the is­sues and de­lights we have to­day were shared in the past and prob­a­bly will be shared in the future.”

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