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Fashion and History: A Dialogue

Start Date 7 December 1992
End Date 21 March 1993
Venue Metropolitan Museum of Art
Location New York, USA
Curator Katell le Bourhis
Designer Jeffrey Daly and Daniel Kershaw

Fashion absorbs, reflects, transforms, projects, and reabsorbs the tastes and the biases of the social world. Like other art forms, it is both an immediate expression of contemporary culture and the genesis of a continuous history. Fashion is a dialogue between the ideas of the moment and those of the past; it is a discourse between the values and creativity of present-day society and those of history. Although it thrives in the surcharged atmosphere of pleasure, luxury, sensuality, and fantasy, today fashion responds to everyone’s needs. Fashion borrows voraciously from all sorts of distant cultures and different eras. It chooses sources of inspiration according to the desires of the period –translating them into a taste that reflects the contemporary images of “culture.” Fashion is both perpetual and ephemeral; it is a conceptual art that “lives” and “performs” before our eyes, for its movements, poise, and manners determine the artistic and social standards of today and tomorrow.

In this inaugural installation, the new galleries of the Costume Institute present a “dialogue” between fashions of radically different historical periods based on four principal themes: the image of the flower; the symbolism of black and white; geometric and abstract patterns; and the evolution of tweed. The thematic organization of the diverse costumes challenges studies of clothing as simply social or historical documents and proposes striking new revelations and juxtapositions. In an adjacent gallery, a special exhibition, “The Mantua: A Recent Acquisition in Context,” focuses on a splendid early eighteenth century dress and its close rapport with the decorative arts of that period. In each of its new galleries the Costume Institute has consciously highlighted an individual theme so that the viewer might explore the various artistic interpretations of a single idea.


Images courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art