Thursday, June 18, 2009
Seduction at FIT
I was traveling up the east coast recently, and was able to catch the end of an amazing show called “Seduction,” presented at The Museum at FIT in New York City. The show presented over 250 years of garments, tapestries and accessories, which illustrate how dress has exhibited the body as a seductive tool. The show presented a brief but powerful range of women’s fashions including varieties of the corset, the flapper’s skirt to Jean Paul Gaultier’s underwear-as-outerwear fashion’. There were also some modern day fashions included in the show, however I was fascinated with the historical garments and accessories. First, I wish the show could have been 4 times the size, it was only 3 small rooms, but still packed a punch! After seeing this show, I would like to see a museum of historical garments as well as how their material and size/shapes choices responded to sumptuary laws as well as erotic choices of the day. Where can I find a show or museum like that? There has got to be a large collection of these garments somewhere.
I enjoy seeing shows like this, which reflect on the power of cloth to attract, but I actually feel like it is the body that is doing the attracting, so how cloth presents the body to attract utilizes some of the same manner of thought as how adornment works with the body. My work is about jewelry and adornment, but commonly references garmetry and could be considered fashion and not just adornment. Since both jewelry and fashion use the body to frame the work presented, eroticism is inherent and most successfully discussed through mediums which interact with the body. The exhibition also has a lovely online show here, which included a brief discussion of the purpose of the show, however seeing the show, I was able to pick up a few bonuses. First was the showing of all the accessories as well as fabrics, shoes, hats, and reticules-the first women’s handbags-and since all the object were shown in chronological order, it was fun seeing the evolution of what worked and what didn’t. Secondly, I was amazed at how many different outfits a woman was at one time responsible for, in order to respectively receive an audience at different times of the day and for different purposes. There was undergarment night gowns only worn in the bedroom (and at times were only put on by a full staff of blood relatives, as was their formal right), formal bedroom wear – that looked a little like a fitted military jacket, with a full collar, buttons in a row from the neck to the navel serving as the entrance to the garment – to be worn when entertaining a male guest I suppose. Tea gowns to be worn at the end of the evening when serving tea in the drawing room (and specific garments that could be worn in the presence of men versus just women), and I’m sure there are more too. I was also interested in the way that certain fabrics were considered (and still are) considered more erotic because they mimic undergarments, like fine silks, and the transparency as well as the color of the fabrics (if skin colored, and reminds of skin, is considered erotic) all allude to skin and nudity, which if seen, immediately reference the sexualized body. As the online catalog suggests, seduction has traditionally carried a negative connotation, and historical garmetry has implemented a variety of designs to prevent the bodies of women from distracting their viewers. Contemporary designers however, work this seductive line of exposure and concealment, and there were some really lovely contemporary examples, all the way up to garments presented in the Spring 2009 lines of this year. Truly, a nice showing of garments. I want more!