Museum at FIT

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 29 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Utterly unsurprisingly, there were four references to Michelle Obama in the text for the Black Fashion Designers show. Because I really miss having her in the White House, I’ll pick the Laura Smalls sundress Mrs. Obama wore on Carpool Karaoke.

Museum at FIT, ManhattanIf I think about the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), it’s generally in terms of the building — the brutalist concrete pile that jumps over 27th Street at 7th Avenue, the anchor tenant of the Garment District.  I’ve walked by it many times and surely I’ve seen the sign that said “museum” — it’s pretty evident.  But not being especially a part of that world, I probably just glossed over it, edited it out, walked on.  The Museum Project ensures that doesn’t happen anymore.  My museum-dar is now top-notch.

In any case, I finally had a reason to visit the Museum at FIT, and I was very favorably impressed.  The museum space occupies a narrow, cave-like gallery on the ground floor, as well as a much larger space downstairs.  It’s all very dark, with spotlights to better to highlight the garments on display.  And of course, black is always fashionable.  Where museum walls go, black is the new black?

The cumulative space is larger than I expected it to be.  Not just some leftover rooms they needed to do something with, it earns the name “museum” (even without a gift shop or cafe).

There were two shows on the day I visited.  The first was called “Black Fashion Designers.”  Refreshingly straightforward, non punny title.  And a good show to boot.  This show could not have been more different from the Center for Architecture‘s show on black architects I recently visited.  I realize buildings can be harder to show in a museum setting than clothes are, but even from an organizational perspective, the Black Designers show had a thoughtfulness and narrative to it that the Architecture Center’s display sorely lacked.

The second show was on Parisian fashion in the 1950s and 1960s.  Apparently the conventional wisdom is Parisian fashion houses were sort of stuck in the past at that point, and UK and American designers really stepped to the fore; this show examines and seeks to correct that misapprehension.  It takes up the two basement spaces, one a low-ceilinged rectangular room that my notes again call “cave-like.”  But the other space was quite different.

Parisian Midcentury Fashion, Museum at FIT, New YorkThrough a door, the second room opened upward and outward, to about triple height, a real surprise given the subterranean location.  Again black, but this was a wide-open, encompassing space filled, tastefully and carefully, with islands of beautifully dressed mannequins stretching into the distance. “Zou bisou bisou” (but not the Mad Men version) playing in the background quietly set the tone.  I’ve discovered I like museums that use music subtly and cleverly to set a tone or convey a time.  Here it works particularly well.

Museum at FIT, ManhattanI didn’t spend a lot of time at the Museum at FIT, but that was mainly because I had a meeting to get to.  Even with my fairly limited knowledge of and interest in clothing, I could’ve spent another 15 or 20 minutes.  Both shows were expertly and lovingly curated and beautifully presented. I have no doubt that FIT has the resources to deliver an authoritative exhibition on any fashionable topic it cares to. And both exhibits zoomed in on subjects that the Met Fashion Institute, with its more general audience, probably wouldn’t do.

Fashion design being a topic of fairly narrow interest, I wouldn’t say everyone should go.  Obviously anyone who is a fashionisto or fashionista (fashionistx?) should make a pilgrimage to the Museum at FIT.  Indeed, I  suspect that one reason for the museum’s existence is so that the fashionable who don’t actually get into FIT have a place to which to make a pilgrimage.  But if you go, I’m confident you’ll see something beautiful and interesting.Museum at FIT, New York

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