Highlighting the intersection of fashion and technology over the past 250 years
Review of the Fashion and Technology Exhibition at the FIT Museum, New-York City, December 4, 2012 until May 8, 2013
Technology is so much part of contemporary life that it seems hard to imagine the world of fashion without it. Most of us take for granted the impact that inventions like the sewing machine, the washing machine, the zipper and synthetic dyes have had on the production of textiles and garments. This vast topic is the subject of the exhibition “Fashion and Technology” now on in The Fashion and Textile History Gallery at FIT Museum in New York City.
In a recent presentation at Parsons, The New School of Design, Emma McClendon spoke about the selection of over 100 objects for this exhibition from FIT Museum’s permanent collection. She framed the exhibition as being “focused on how technology has changed and pushed fashion into new directions”. Co-curators Emma McClendon and Ariele Elia sought to illustrate how technology influenced the production, materials, aesthetics, and functions of fashion and used these themes in selecting objects for inclusion in the exhibition.
The exhibition opens by framing the show in a contemporary moment with videos of Hussein Chalayan’s spring 2007 show to illustrate the use of technology as artistic expression and Burberry’s holographic runway show in Beijing in April 2011 to illustrate technology’s impact on the marketing of fashion. Also presented in this initial sequence is a 3-D printed dress and bag by Freedom of Creation. Beyond this, the exhibition is presented in chronological format.
Over the past 250 years, the production of fashion has been significantly altered by new technological inventions, including the Jacquard loom in 1801, the sewing machine in the mid-19th century, the washing machine in the mid-20th century, and computer-aided design processes and computer-operated Jacquard looms in the late 20th century.
Innovations in the development of materials are illustrated with a range of garments and textiles. A beautiful afternoon dress in silk taffeta from 1860 is a rich purple colour and illustrates the discovery of synthetic aniline dye, which allowed a new range of deep lasting colours to be produced. Efforts to make use of new materials like gelatin for sequins in the 1920s (which would melt with the heat of the body) and cellophane in the 1930s are also represented. More recent material innovations include a Pierre Cardin dress from 1968 that used Dynel to heat-set a single piece of fabric molded to the body as well as a 1987 dress by Marc Audibet that integrated Lycra with cotton and silk.
McClendon explained the aesthetic of technology in terms of the “visual shifts that manifest in textile prints”. This was illustrated with an André Courrèges dress and hat representing a galactical image of the future, a paper dress printed with the images of rockets, both from the 1960s, as well as other textiles.
In terms of function, developments in technology unrelated to fashion have translated into innovations in the design of clothing. For example, the widespread adoption of the bicycle by women in the later part of the 19th century resulted in a dress ensemble with a bifurcated skirt allowing women to ride a bicycle without having their skirt ride up or get caught in the spokes. In the early 20th century, the invention of the automobile necessitated a coat called a duster, which was worn to protect one’s clothing from the clouds of dust created by the dirt roadways. More recent functional innovations included Vivienne Tam’s digital clutch from 2010 where technology became a beautiful accessory as well as other objects such as Lily Pad technology.
The exhibition ends with a selection of videos offering insight into innovations that are a works in progress such as the creation of a fabric using bacteria.
This exhibition presents the highlights of the intersection of fashion and technology over the past 250 years, and the co-curators did an admirable job of wrestling with this material, reminding us of the impact of familiar objects like the sewing machine, zipper and washing machine. There is a vast amount of material here, and it can be a bit overwhelming to absorb it in one visit. This is an exhibition that is worth a repeat visit in order to fully appreciate the key technological innovations that have shaped the materials, processes, aesthetics and design of fashion. The exhibition booklet quotes from fashion designer Hussein Chalayan: “fashion will renew itself through technology, new fibers, new ways of making clothes. Without risk, nothing changes the world.”
Fashion and Technology
The Fashion and Textile History Gallery at FIT Museum
The Museum at FIT
Fashion Institute of Technology
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
New York City 10001-5992
December 4, 2012 – May 8, 2013
Admission is free
Museum Opening Hours: Tuesday-Friday Noon-8pm, Saturday 10am-5pm
All photographs courtesy The Museum at FIT, New York.