DR. VALERIE STEELE, DIRECTOR AND CHIEF CURATOR OF THE MUSEUM AT F.I.T.
YVES SAINT LAURENT, MONDRIAN DRESS, 1965. GIFT OF THE ESTATE OF VALENTINA SHLEE.
"This was obviously one of the most important dresses in his career. We're trying to look for designers who are the most important designers, their most important collections, and then the most important garments within the collection. That's the ultimate goal. Then you're also looking, if you can, for great provenance, so who was the person who wore it? That adds to the story as well. Unfortunately provenance is lost for the most part when getting things from auction. This was from the estate of Valentina Schlee, this really great Russian-American designer."—Valerie Steele
CHARLES JAMES GOWNS, 1950s
AZZEDINE ALAIA COAT
"You really realize with Alaïa, he's such a brilliant designer. It's no wonder he's still so famous after all these years. Every detail is so incredibly brilliant."—Valerie Steele
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN DRESS, SPRING 2010
"The McQueen you see here, that one we bought at auction. This was also a very, very important show. When we're looking for acquiring something, we want it to be a both artistic and historical significance. McQueen is obviously one of the most important designers of our era. And this collection, the Evolution collection, was one of his most important and striking collections. So when this came up at auction, we were really keen to try and get it."—Valerie Steele
BALENCIAGA COAT, 1950
"The earliest [Balenciaga we have] is 1938, which is this really beautiful cut velvet. We've got at least several hundred Balenciagas out of a collection, which is more than 50,000 garments and accessories. The latest is just a couple years ago—we've got some Nicolas Ghesquière. This is one of our most beautiful Cristóbal Balenciaga coats. It's really a masterpiece. This would be from the 1950s. This was the period when he was really of the God of French couture. To me, technically, it's totally a masterpiece."—Valerie Steele
BALENCIAGA BY NICOLAS GHESQUIERE JACKET, FALL 2007
BODICE, 19TH CENTURY
"This used to be one of my very favorite 19th century ones. It's crinoline era, so you have the big full skirt, and a day bodice and an evening bodice. It's kind of astonishing when you think about it, but that was a very, very common pattern then. We have a nice, small, but very nice collection of 18th-century costume and accessories. There are earlier textiles that go back to the Coptic period. I love pink, I've been thinking about maybe in a couple of years doing a show about the color pink. Color symbolism and history is really interesting. I've been fanatically reading all this work by Michel Pastoureau, some of that's been translated to whole books on black, and green, and blue. It's really interesting."—Valerie Steele
RODARTE GOWN, FALL 2008
"Collecting contemporary work is like collecting contemporary art. You're making an educated guess that somebody's going to be important. With Rodarte, for example, we started collecting their work from the beginning. It seemed really different from what other designers were doing. When I was working on the "Gothic: Dark Glamour" exhibition, I really loved this collection that Rodarte had done, which was inspired by Korean and Japanese horror films. I started watching all of these films, and I knew with this [dress] for example, they'd been struck by images of blood, so they did all this research to try and find out how could they make dyeing the fabric look like that. I was really determined to acquire this."—Valerie Steele
ELSA SCHIAPARELLI EVENING DRESS, 1939.
"The back is so fabulous with that bustle. That's the real Belle Époque. Everybody was starting to move towards that in '39, and then the war came. The kind of most exciting thing about a fashion museum is that you have the actual objects. It's wonderful to read about it and look at the pictures in fashion magazines, but there's something that is really special about having actual objects in front of you. I think that's what the excitement about fashion collections and fashion museums is. That whole, swelling neo-romanticism that appeared right before the war broke out, and then, when it appears again with the New Look in '47, it's just been put on ice for almost a decade."—Valerie Steele
CHANEL EVENING DRESS, 1925
"Here you see this lovely little chemise from late '20s. It's so sexy and so inimitable. She really talked about how she loathed bright colors, they made her so nauseated. Bringing in all of these subtle beiges and flesh tones and navy and blacks, it's really cool."—Valerie Steele
CHANEL BY KARL LAGERFELD GOWN, 1983. GIFT OF THE ESTATE OF TINA CHOW.
"This was his first collection. As I recall, this was the most expensive dress and the best dress in the collection, it and got a lot of publicity. I think it was worn on the runway by Inès de La Fressange, if I remember right. But it's such a brilliant, witty idea that. He did the black dress, he did the costume jewelry, but he has the trompe-l'œil. It shows to the brilliance of Lagerfeld in translating the whole Chanel legacy into a modern period." —Valerie Steele
YVES SAINT LAURENT TOP, 1968
YVES SAINT LAURENT EVENING DRESS, 1967
"This he did in the late '60s. He's so famous for exoticism."—Valerie Steele