Into the Archive at the Museum at FIT

By
Photography Frank Sun

Published September 15, 2015

PHOTOS BY FRANK SUN.

Straddling the border of Chelsea and the Garment District, The Museum at FIT, situated within the fashion school of the same name, is one of those insider Manhattan gems that exhibit awe-inspiring artworks to the public for free. Eighteenth-century costumes, Rei Kawakubo, Balenciaga, and Norman Norell, as well as scores of fashion’s most important innovators, are all immortalized in the museum’s archival collection. Other items you can find amongst over 50,000 carefully curated garments and accessories include a Schiaparelli hot air balloon brooch, a red silk Galliano for Dior top hat, and a trompe-l’oeil evening gown from Karl Lagerfeld’s debut collection for Chanel, previously owned by Tina Chow. At the helm is Director and Chief Curator Dr. Valerie Steele (dubbed by Suzy Menkes as the “Freud of Fashion”), who has made her career elevating fashion scholarship to a subject not only worthy of study and fascination, but as an absolutely vital form of cultural critique.

“You realize that we think of clothes as either part of every day life or just as a commodity,” remarks Steele. “In a museum you have a chance to look at them from another perspective: artistically, but also as a part of culture or society.”

The museum’s archives recently underwent a multi-year renovation, and Interview stopped by for a visit of the new facilities ahead of the museum’s fall exhibition slate, which includes an ode to the club queen Susanne Bartsch, “Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch,” open through October, and “Denim: Fashion’s Final Frontier,” set for December. Click through the slideshow to see our tour of the new archive, led by Steele, Senior Conservator Ann Coppinger, and Sonia Dingilian, and the Charles James, Yves Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli, and Alaïa pieces we found along the way.

THE MUSEUM AT FIT IS LOCATED AT SEVENTH AVENUE AND 27TH STREET. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.