November 02, 2016
Black Fashion Designers at FIT
December 6 – May 16, 2017
Black Fashion Designers examines the significant, but often unrecognized, impact that designers of African descent have had on fashion. The exhibition features approximately 75 fashions by more than 60 designers. Although there have been exhibitions on individual black designers, this is the first major exhibition in many years that highlights the global history of black fashion designers from the 1950s to the present. All of the objects on display are part of the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT.
Black Fashion Designers is organized into eight themes, beginning with “Breaking Into the Industry,” which examines black designers working in New York. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Arthur McGee and Wesley Tann challenged discrimination in the industry. Other designers followed in their footsteps, playing a major role in building New York as a fashion capital. During the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Willi Smith built a large, international fashion house from his quirky twists on classic sportswear, seen in a multicolored, striped ensemble. Today, Tracy Reese is an indispensable mainstay. Her multicolored striped gown shows her feminine and elegant style.
For decades, high fashion has turned to African cultures for fresh ideas and embellishments, yet these appropriations are often superficial. The “African Influence” section illustrates significant ways that African and diasporic designers apply their own experiences, referencing traditional textiles and art forms to create contemporary styles. Aisha Ayensu’s dress and coat from spring 2016 combines Ankara fabrics with cut-out embroidery and artful scenes of the savannah. Ayensu created her Accra-based label Christie Brown because she wanted Ghanaian women to liberate traditional wax-print textiles from special-occasion wear and incorporate them into their everyday clothing in modern ways.
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