Bringing Fashion Back to MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art’s first fashion show in more than 70 years, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” — which included items such as flip-flops and a height-of-normcore white T-shirt — was co-curated by Graduate Center art history doctoral student Michelle Millar Fisher.
The show drew glowing press coverage and big crowds. Fisher, who is now a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Paola Antonelli, senior curator of MoMA’s architecture and design department, sought to spark new ways of looking at the things we wear or have worn. In the case of wardrobe staples like trench coats and turtlenecks, the curators focused on the history of the item or the provocative statement that can be made by wearing it. Colin Kaepernick’s jersey, for example, is imbued with the message of his protest.
Among Fisher’s favorite items were ones that implied both rebellion and solidarity, like a 1968 dashiki introduced by the New York-based design company New Breed Ltd. as a symbol of the black power movement and pan-Africanism. “It seemed to be a really amazing moment of fashion really being part of the conversation,” Fisher says.
Ballet flats, particularly a pair from the 1940s, were another favorite. American designer Claire McCardell conceived them as a sporty alternative for busy, modern women — a postwar alternative to restrictive, Paris-based fashion, Fisher notes.
The curators initially drew up a list of more than 500 items, which they whittled down to 111. “The sock is one item that didn’t make it that I loved,” Fisher says, pointing out its “good history of hygiene” and the “idea of knitting on the home front during the war.”