Museum  June 11, 2019  Cynthia Close

The Future of Fashion: Gender-Bending Clothes Lead the Way

Photograph by Gioconda & August, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Alessandro Trincone, "Annodami” collection, Spring/Summer 2017. Alessandro Trincone (Italian, born in 1991). Model: Andrea Antonelli.

Michelle Finamore, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts, explores the rich history of gender in fashion in a tradition-disrupting exhibition, now on view. For a museum whose first curator of contemporary art was not appointed until the 1970s, the MFA’s trajectory into 21st-century collecting has been rocket-like. Gender Bending Fashion seeks to continue this modernization by drawing the interest of communities not usually found wandering the galleries of this august institution.

Riding the current wave of art museums' interest in fashion (the annual Met Gala recently kicked off Camp: Notes on Fashion, The Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now and Thierry Mugler: Coutourissime continues until Sept 8 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), Finamore sought input from a range of audiences. From Millennials and Generation Z, to transgender rights groups and the online queer fashion community, as well as the museum's in-house teen engagement program, the exhibition looks to the next generations to determine what the future holds for the relationship between gender, fashion, and self-expression.

Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Tuxedo worn by Marlene Dietrich in the film Morocco, 1930.

Defining gender has become one of the most complex issues in identity politics, making the curator's task of navigating such a minefield a risky undertaking. What terms do we use in talking about identity when Facebook has more than 70 ways to describe a user’s gender? Finamore contextualizes the theme with historical nods to late 19th century developments of pants-wearing women who also smoked and rode bicycles and the tuxedo and top hat donned by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film Morocco. But the show is firmly entrenched in the here and now.

A magnificent dress by Italian designer Alessandro Trincone is the signature image for the exhibition (shown above). The elegant, cascading skirt of grey ruffles topped with a parasol-like headpiece shadowing the wearers face and therefore their identity could proudly be worn by a woman but was designed for a man. It was worn by the rapper Young Thug (a.k.a. Jeffery Lamar Williams) on the cover of his 2016 album No, My Name is JEFFERY. The outfit has a Samurai-inspired feel, giving license to skirt wearing warriors past and present.

Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gender Bending Fashion at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The dramatically lit galleries have a nighttime 1980s disco look, with deep purple to fuchsia to black being the predominant color backdrop to equally intensely colored jewel-like patterned work by the Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck. His emerald green polyester, acrylic, acetate, mohair, and nylon ensemble was purchased by the museum for their permanent collection (above). In 2013 Rad Hourani was the first designer in history to show a unisex collection during Paris Fashion Week. His geometric minimalist forms are built around a completely new sizing system that can be adapted for bodies of any sex or gender. This is a much-needed development and the ready to wear industry should take note.

Unisex Couture Look #3 – Coat – From Rad Hourani Unisex Couture Collection #9 Paris, Fall/Winter 2012. Rad Hourani (Canadian, born in Jordan 1982).
Courtesy Rad Hourani and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Unisex Couture Look #3 – Coat – From Rad Hourani Unisex Couture Collection #9 Paris, Fall/Winter 2012. Rad Hourani (Canadian, born in Jordan 1982). Leather and wool. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum purchase with funds donated by the Fashion Council.

Viktor & Rolf A/W 2003, One Woman Show, Look 32. Viktor and Rolf (Dutch, founded in 1993).
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Viktor & Rolf A/W 2003, One Woman Show, Look 32. Viktor and Rolf (Dutch, founded in 1993).

Blazer and kilt, 2012. Comme des Garcons, Ltd. (Japanese, founded in 1969).
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Blazer and kilt, 2012. Comme des Garcons, Ltd. (Japanese, founded in 1969). Black jacquard jacket with woven roses motif, wool kilt. Museum purchase with funds donated by the Fashion Council. 

Janelle Monáe in a Christian Siriano red evening suit, shirt and accessories at the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Janelle Monáe in a Christian Siriano red evening suit, shirt and accessories at the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Styles by over 50 designers are interwoven with individual stories of the artists who created the work and the celebrities, fashion influencers, and local Bostonians who wear them, creating the rich stew out of which many new identities emerge.

Gender Bending Fashion is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through August 25.

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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