“Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” A Special Exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York
Project location: UNITED STATES, New York
Project start date: November 2017 - Project end date: April 2018
Project number: 2015-047
Beneficiary: Museum of the City of New York
Featuring more than 70 garments drawn primarily from the Museum's Costume Collection, the exhibition traces the dramatic transformation in clothing between 1960 and 1973, not only in length and silhouette, but also in materials and methods of textile manufacture. Works by designers as diverse as Mary Quant, Geoffrey Beene, and Pauline Trigère illuminate the communicative powers of fashion in the '60s-reflecting cultural trends from Beatlemania to Pop and Op Art to infatuation with the "space race," and social changes like the women's liberation movement and the radicalism of the counterculture and antiwar movements. Also on display are fine and costume jewelry, shoes, handbags, design renderings, and photographs that capture the spirit of a creative and confrontational era.
Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip, a special exhibition on view at the Museum of the City of New York from November 21, 2017 through April 1, 2018, traced the fashion transformations of the 1960s. Presenting clothing design within the context of the decade's political, artistic, and social benchmarks, Mod New York was structured around aesthetically groundbreaking and historically significant garments drawn primarily from the Museum's own renowned Costume Collection. The exhibition's goals were to be on view to the public from March 1 through July 31, 2017, and to attract more than 150,000 national and international visitors. Goals included 15 public and education programs, ranging from gallery talks and panel discussions to hands-on activities for children and families.
Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip was co-curated by Phyllis Magidson, the Museum's Elizabeth Farran Tozer Curator of Costumes and Textiles, and Donald Albrecht, Curator of Architecture and Design. The Museum initially anticipated the exhibition would open in March 2017. The Museum decided to delay the opening in order to complement the Museum's wider exhibition schedule. This also enabled us to keep the exhibition on view for New York Fashion Week in February of 2018, providing further marketing opportunities through social media.
Mod New York presented in context the full arc of 1960s fashion, from the Camelot-era evening gown and the Mod miniskirt to counterculture tie-dye and the post-revolution pantsuit. Items were primarily sourced from the Museum's Costume Collection, in addition to The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as private collections.
The exhibition was divided into four thematic sections proceeding chronologically from 1960 to 1973. Along with original garments, the exhibition featured a selection of distinctive accessories, including jewelry, shoes, and handbags, as well as photographs and ephemera that evoke the spirit of the era-from product advertisements and original packaging to important fashion publications, including Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Women's Wear Daily, and Rags.
Section 1. First Lady Fashion, 1960-1963 The decade dawned with clothing that was classic and sophisticated, in compliance with directives issued by upper-echelon Parisian and American designers. The early years of the decade were also defined by a notable marketing development that lured the couture-happy public into New York's department stores with the promise of costly looks for a fraction of the price-the Paris copy.
A sidebar closed out this section of the exhibition, showcasing the groundbreaking images of Kwame Brathwaite and representing the inception of the "Black is Beautiful" movement.
Section 2. Youthquake, 1964-1966 The exhibition considered the history of the counterculture boutique and other alternative fashion spaces through designer garments and department store knockoffs that no longer relied on body-molding undegarments for their shape, instead highlighting youthful bodies with bright colors and bold patterns. Textile innovations such as vinyl and polyester made a more stearmlined silhouette possible. This section concluded with an examination of Truman Capote's legendary "Black-and-White Ball," which took place on November 28, 1966, in the Plaza Hotel.
Section 3. New Bohemia, 1967-1969 The next section examined how the dialogue between clothing and political dogma was ignited by the first anti-Vietnam protest march from Central Park to the United Nations on April 15, 1967-an event attended by 200,000 people. This "Peaced Out" spirit, first associated with San Francisco's "Summer of Love" and imported to New York's sidewalks and department stores, interjected an appealing, Arcadian tone to dress.
Section 4. New Nonchalance 1970-1973 The final section illustrated how the early months of 1970 continued along the eclectic course of the late '60s, but within the year, these exotic garments would be joined by a fashion alternative that was tamer and more subdued, reinterpreting Jacqueline Kennedy's style for a new generation of liberated women.
The installation design by Studio Joseph boldly presented a decade of changing fashion immersed in a vibrant array of color, dynamic geometrical forms, and graphic patterning. The gallery was organized into distinct but overlapping sections. In each niche, mannequins were carefully arranged, highlighting relationships in color and design.
The slatted barrier between each area conveyed the idea of transference between each era, allowing visitors to keep sight of past and future developments as they moved through the space. The colors on the slat mimic the custom-designed wallpaper on three walls of the gallery, each of which are subtly different-drawing from the hues of the garments themselves and subtly suggesting the exuberant patterns that are most popularly associated with the era. Triangular platforms increased the available perimeter for display and set a dynamic conversation between the garments and the gallery space. A soundtrack of hits from the era gave the experience a dynamic, upbeat excitement from the moment one entered.
Coinciding with the show's launch, the Museum and The Monacelli Press co-published the exhibition's accompanying 176-page hardcover book, Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip. Edited by co-curators Magidson and Albrecht, the publication is beautifully illustrated by over 150 designs by Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Rudi Gernreich, Yves Saint Laurent, André Courrèges, Norman Norell, and Bill Blass, among many others.
Authoritative essays by well-known fashion historians explored the ways in which these radical movements were expressed in fashion. Of special note is Kwame S. Brathwaite's essay on the Grandassa Models and "Black is Beautiful" movement, which is illustrated with photographs by his father, Kwame Brathwaite.
Mod New York attracted 123,849 national and international visitors from November 21, 2017 through April 1, 2018. Several VIP evenings were organized during the run of the exhibition, where Donald Albrecht and Phyllis Magidson led special tours followed by receptions. These included events organized for the National Jewelry Institute and the Couture Council of the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The exhibition was bolstered by broad press coverage, including feature articles in The New York Times, Vogue, and TIME. In addition to 43 features and 59 listings in traditional media outlets, Mod New York garnered significant attention on social media. Most notable was 2,200 views for a Facebook Live conversation with curator Phyllis Magidson.
14 programs for students, educators, and the general public were offered in conjunction with Mod New York. Five public programs welcomed 601 attendees to explore the exhibition's themes. The Museum's Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center offered nine programs attended by 440 students and adults.
Fun with Fashion: Design a New York Look was held on Thursday, February 22. 41 children and 28 adults took inspiration from New York designers such as Mary Quant, Geoffrey Beene, and Pauline Trigère featured in the exhibition, then used fabric swatches to create a three-dimensional sketch of their own design. The exhibition was also featured in the Museum's Saturday Academy-a free SAT prep and American History course for approximately 200 students grades 8-12, serving all five boroughs with priority seating for students from East Harlem. 61 students total explored fashion as a form of expression for social and political groups throughout the 20th century and up until the present. Professional Development for New York City teachers explored Mod New York through a co-presentation with the Museum's Future City Lab entitled Future City Lab: Art, Culture, Fashion held for free on Saturday, February 3 attended by 210 educators.