By telling the stories of the garments and accessories that form the foundation of how we dress today, MoMa is opening its first fashion-only exhibition in over 70 years.
Items: Is Fashion Modern? fills the entire sixth floor of the museum, and includes 111 typologies each selected for its importance over the last 100 years.
Organised by MoMA senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli, the exhibition's name is adapted from the title of MoMA's last exhibition dedicated solely to fashion: Are Clothes Modern? curated by Bernard Rudofsky in 1944, in which the architect questioned traditional attitudes towards clothing at the time.
What’s displayed in the spacious and newly renovated sixth-floor galleries is an edited list of 111 items that Antonelli and her team have identified as fashion’s most important game changers. Included in that list are hoodies, jeans, hijabs, yoga pants, platforms, stilettos, flip-flops, kippahs, chinos, aviator sunglasses, shawls, loafers, door-knocker earrings, and the little black dress. Twenty-three brands get a specific call out, six of them for shoes—Nike Air Force 1s, Adidas Stan Smiths, Converse All Stars, Dr. Martens, Tevas, and the Maison Margiela Tabi boot. Two brands contribute beauty products—YSL Touche Éclat and Chanel No. 5. The items shown are all from the 20th or 21st centuries and are intentionally New York–centric.
It’s this sense of universality that makes “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” so much fun to experience. While bustling through the opening party, I spotted a teenage boy in a Bape T-shirt freaking out about a Yeezy sneaker that had been transformed into a mask, an older woman contemplating a micro-miniskirt, a devastatingly chic uptowner eyeing the Birkin bag, and a group of dudes snapping iPhone photos of the graphic tees in the exhibit. You see yourself in these pieces, in happiness and in sorrow. You will smile at the late, great Richard Nicoll’s LED-luminescent minidress as it flickers turquoise and teal in a dark corner. You might cry at the sight of a red Champion hoodie placed high on a black wall like a memorial for Trayvon Martin and his senselessly gunned-down peers. After seeing Colin Kaepernick’s jersey, lined up against other professional jerseys, you will debate with your exhibit-mates about the NFL, the national anthem, and Kaepernick’s career. You will definitely stop in the gift shop and eye up the Ralph Lauren polos, the Breton tops, and the Yankees caps made especially for the show.