Lifestyle & Culture

Virtual Museum: Fairy Tale Fashion

ONE NICE thing about the lockdown is that, in the absence of new exhibits, museums are giving us a chance to catch up with earlier offerings that we may have missed. One such institution, the Museum at FIT, New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, has several exhibits in its archive worth revisiting.

One that struck me as an antidote to today’s heaviness was from Spring 2016, as far from current reality as possible, I think. It’s Fairy Tale Fashion and concerns itself with the influence of those childhood favorites on fashion writ large. Some influences are obvious (Little Red Riding Hood), others more suggestive. But in all, they answer the question, Where do designers get their inspirations? The answer: just about everywhere.

—Nancy McKeon

P.S. This is just a small sample of the delicious images at the exhibit website.

LEFT: The story of Little Red Riding Hood got an over-the-top fashion take in red patent leather in Spring 2015 from Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons.
RIGHT: Swans, from “The Swan Maidens” to “Swan Lake,” have long signaled the stately yet sinuous female form. The “Swan” dress by Charles James was so called because of the backward sweep of the skirt, which extends back like the wings of a bird. / Charles James “Swan” gown, 1954-55, gift of Robert Wells in Memory of Lisa Kirk.


The 2016 FIT Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit had a whole gallery of clothing inspired by Charles Perrault’s tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Note the white wolf-as-Grandma figure lurking at the far left.


LEFT: This “Alice in Wonderland” dress is almost as wild as the story that inspired it. The frock, which nods to the Queen of Hearts’s playing-card soldiers, was designed by Manish Arora to mark the 2010 release of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” movie. The dress was remade in 2015.
RIGHT: The color says “Alice” but the dress, with its tutu-like skirt, is a Spring 2015 take by Undercover on “Swan Lake,” often thought to be a kind of fairy tale.


LEFT: Hollywood costume designer Adrian dressed Judy Garland (as Dorothy, of course) in a blue gingham pinafore in the 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz.” The humble gingham and other simple cottons were features of his high-end fashion collections through World War II as well. / Adrian dress, circa 1942, gift of Mrs. Karl J. Bea.
RIGHT: Giorgio di Sant’Angelo produced this dress for his 1971 “Summer of Jane and Cinderella” collection. I don’t know what the Janes looked like, but the Cinderellas were represented by various looks in shredded and frayed chiffon. / Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, 1971, gift of Ms. Lena Horne.


LEFT: Which fairy-tale princess could this be but Sleeping Beauty? Pale, flowing fabric, delicate lines. / Marchesa gown, spring 2012, lent by Marchesa.
RIGHT: Inspired by “the fantasy of mermaids,” this gown in the Spring 2015 Rodarte collection captured, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy said, “the spirit of the sea” and, perhaps, the tale of “The Little Mermaid.” / Rodarte blue and green gown, Spring 2015.


LEFT: From Jean Paul Gaultier, a two-piece fur-trimmed evening ensemble from Fall 2002, producing the very image of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen. / Gift of Mrs. Martin D. Gruss.
CENTER: As she rides off in her sleigh, the Snow Queen is dressed in white furs, perhaps a variation on this hooded cape, 2011, and fur evening dress, 2008, from J. Mendel. / Lent by J. Mendel.
RIGHT: This Alexander McQueen gown was part of a collection inspired by witches, but in the context of fairy tales the cascade of beaded tresses on the gown brings to mind long-haired Rapunzel in her tower. / Alexander McQueen dress, Fall 2007.


One thought on “Virtual Museum: Fairy Tale Fashion

  1. Nancy G says:

    Such lovely dresses. Remember when we all got dressed, even though certainly not to this extent?

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