In her 1938 book Fashion is Spinach, the American couturiere Elizabeth Hawes described a common, if inaccurate, belief: All beautiful clothing comes from Paris.
Though the accepted provenance of beautiful clothing has since expanded, it’s still narrow—a misconception that is neatly dashed by Global Fashion Capitals, a new exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Co-curators Ariele Elia and Elizabeth Way have assembled the work of designers from 20 cities, all with thriving fashion cultures.
Many of the ensembles, like a brightly striped dress from the Lagos designer Lisa Folawiyo or a skirt and top from New Dehli’s Manish Aurora that’s printed with vintage covers of the Bollywood magazine Cine Blitz, have never been displayed in North America before. All upturn preconceived notions. A jacket from the Belgian husband-and-wife team A.F. Vandevorst, for example, has a stiffened collar that ripples like a mini mountain range. Though it reads “avant-garde” rather than “ethnic” it was inspired by a visit to the Peruvian Andes. And a sheer mesh dress by the Shanghai designer Masha Ma has nothing especially Chinese about it; instead, it was inspired by the Jazz Age and Art Nouveau.
It’s a subtle way of reinforcing one of the exhibition’s most trenchant observations, which is that fashion has always been international, a quality summed up by the oldest object on display, an 1890 evening cape by Charles Frederick Worth—an Englishman who worked in Paris.
Global Fashion Capitals at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, June 2 – November 14, 2015. For more information, go to fit.nyc.edu.