“Fashion in Colors”* Makes U.S. Debut at Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
*Editors’ note: For the exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt, the title has been shortened to “Fashion in Colors.”
The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present the exhibition “Fashion in Colors,” from Dec. 9 through March 26, 2006. Organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) Japan, the exhibition explores color as a design element through 300 years of Western fashion and examines changing perceptions of color through various ages and cultures. Cooper-Hewitt will be the first museum outside of Japan to present the exhibition.
More than sixty historic and contemporary fashions, drawn from KCI’s collection of more than 11,000 Western-style dresses and dating from the 18th century to the present, will be on view on the first and second floors of the museum. The costumed mannequins will be installed according to six separate color-saturated schemes (black, multicolor, blue, red, yellow and white), which emphasize and highlight the cultural, spiritual and social associations often linked with each color. By grouping the historic and contemporary costumes by color, previously unseen details and structures of the clothing will emerge for the viewer, and similar elements and trends will reappear in dresses separated by hundreds of years.
“‘Fashion in Colors’ presents a distinctive interpretation of color in design and its impact on culture, trade and taste,” said director Paul Warwick Thompson. “We’re delighted that ‘Fashion in Colors’ will make its international debut at Cooper-Hewitt, particularly as this is the largest fashion-oriented design exhibition ever held at the museum.”
Exhibition highlights include modern and contemporary masterpieces by Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Emilio Pucci, Cristobal Balenciaga, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons and Viktor & Rolf, along with historical costumes, including late 18th-century gowns and late 19th-century bustle-style dresses.
“This exhibition is a dramatic and thought-provoking examination of fashion and form through the language of color. By presenting both historic and contemporary fashions, the exhibition mirrors the museum’s mission of viewing the history of design through 21st century eyes,” said curatorial director Barbara Bloemink.
“Fashion in Colors” examines relationships between different hues, feelings and functions in historical and contemporary costume, and investigates different perceptions of color around the world. Once used to reflect the wearer’s social status or profession, color now has evolved beyond this strict hierarchy to express personal taste and mood. Technology and cross-cultural trade have also influenced the ways in which colors are used, broadening color options by making once-priceless dyes readily available to all.
The exhibition’s Black section explores notions of modernity and elegance, as well as the somber attire of mourning. Coco Chanel’s “little black dress” of the 1920s, a classic example of simple elegance that remains a fashion staple to this day, is contrasted with Viktor & Rolf’s elaborate multi-collared jacket and pants set of 2003.
Once the clothing of jokers and harlequins, patchwork and multicolor designs in the 20th century are featured by various designers in both casual and formal fashions. On view will be fantastical designs that blurred the boundaries between art and clothing, created by eccentric or rebellious 20th century designers, including Elsa Schiaparelli’s printed dress and Emilio Pucci’s psychedelic prints, juxtaposed with more contemporary color-filled designs by Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano for Christian Dior and Dolce & Gabbana.
Blue, at one time strictly reserved for royalty due to the complex production process necessary to achieve this rare color, has enjoyed universal popularity since the 17th century, when trade and new production techniques began to democratize the color. Various blues have made their appearance over the years, from the royal blue of the Middle Ages to the deep blue produced by indigo and the first synthetic aniline dye produced by William Perkin. Highlights of this section include historic costumes featuring royal blue, deep indigo blue and vivid purple, such as an English Mantua dress (circa 1740s - 1750s) and a vivid synthetic colored dress of the late 19th century.
Focusing on the 18th century, the Red and Yellow sections examine the relationship between color and international trade. Since ancient times, dyes have been valuable trade goods, and voyages of exploration often led to the discovery of new dyes and color techniques. A bright yellow English robe à la française gown from the 1760s, in silk taffeta, will be one of the many historic dresses from this time period on view. As technological advances made dyes more readily available, the rigid social symbolism of color was replaced by self-expression and personal taste, as exemplified in a 2000 Junya Watanabe jacket and skirt ensemble.
The final section of the exhibition is devoted to the color White, which has traditionally served as a symbol of purity, innocence and hope in the West and a color of mourning in the East. The dresses on view include a muslin one-piece dress from the early 19th century, a gauzy and ethereal white flapper-style dress by Coco Chanel from 1926, and a stunning wedding dress (inspired by a nun’s habit) by Madeleine Vionnet from the 1930s.
“Fashion in Colors” at Cooper-Hewitt is curated by KCI chief curator Akiko Fukai and Cooper-Hewitt curatorial director Barbara Bloemink. It is an adaptation of “Fashion in Colors: Viktor & Rolf & KCI,” which was organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute and co-curated by Akiko Fukai, chief curator of KCI, Shinji Kohmoto, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, and avant garde Dutch fashion designers Viktor & Rolf. The exhibition was first shown at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan (April 29 - June 20, 2004) and traveled to the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (Aug. 24 - Dec. 5, 2004).
“Fashion in Colors” is made possible in part by Lancôme. Media support is provided by ELLE. Additional support provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Wacoal America, Inc., United Colors of Benetton, Stephen McKay, Inc., the Mondriaan Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Lee S. Ainslie III, Kay Allaire, ESP Trendlab, and Mr. and Mrs. John A. Griffin. Mannequins provided by Rootstein. Generous in-kind support provided by Japan Airlines, Element Labs, Inc., Yamato Logistics Co., Ltd., and Benjamin Moore & Co.
About Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Cooper-Hewitt is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.
As the design authority of the United States, Cooper-Hewitt programs and exhibitions demonstrate how design shapes culture and history—past, present and future. The museum presents design along an historic continuum, balancing contemporary and historic concerns and using 21st century perspectives to pinpoint themes of enduring interest to design across all centuries. Holdings encompass one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, tracing the history of design through more than 250,000 objects spanning 24 centuries, from the Han Dynasty (200 B.C.) to the present. The museum’s collections are organized by four curatorial departments: Product Design and Decorative Arts; Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design; Textiles; and Wallcoverings.
Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $12; senior citizens and students over age 12, $7. Cooper-Hewitt members and children under age 12 are admitted free. The museum is fully accessible.
About the Kyoto Costume Institute
Founded in 1978 in Kyoto, Japan, the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) engages audiences worldwide through its exhibitions and publications on fashion. KCI’s collection comprises over 11,000 costume items and many related materials of Western clothing, from the early 17th century to the present. The contemporary arm of the collection includes world-famous designers as well as numerous pieces from Japanese designers who have been active since the 1970s.
Supported by its collection, KCI has created an impressive series of exhibitions spotlighting fashion. Five full-scale exhibitions of the KCI collection have been organized over the last 25 years, including “Evolution of Fashion” (1980), “Revolution in Fashion” (1989), “Japonism in Fashion” (1994), “Visions of the Body” (1999), and “Fashion in Colors: Viktor & Rolf & KCI” (2004).
Since its establishment, KCI has worked to deconstruct the conventional framework of fashion and has contributed groundbreaking scholarship in the field. With “Japonism in Fashion,” KCI adopted a scientific approach to reveal the influence of Japanese culture on Western fashion and Japonism in the broader sense. “Visions of the Body” revealed the relationship between contemporary fashion practices and trends in contemporary art and explored how fashion and art share a similar awareness about current times. KCI continues to alter perceptions of fashion and image with the launch of “Fashion in Colors: Viktor & Rolf & KCI,” which is now presented as “Fashion in Colors” at Cooper-Hewitt.
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