New MFIT Exhibition Explores Extreme Fashion

The “heroic era” of polar navigation, extreme mountain climbing, deep-sea exploration and outer-space travel all inspired leading fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Isaac Mizrahi and Yohji Yamamoto in some way. Yet few have considered the origins of the parkas, puffer coats and garments made of neoprene and Mylar seen on the streets and runways today.

“Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme” at The Museum at FIT is the first large-scale exhibition to explore how clothing made for survival in the harshest environments on earth — and off of it — made its way onto high-fashion runways and into our everyday wardrobes. On view until Jan. 6, 2018, are more than five dozen ensembles and accessories from MFIT’s permanent collection, as well as a fascinating selection of historical items on loan from the American Museum of Natural History and private collections.

“The whole process was to marry this idea as to how exploration, science and fashion come together,” MFIT Deputy Director Patricia Mears told Women’s Wear Daily.

Among the 70 different items on display is a Commes de Garçons parka jacket, Jean Paul Gaultier puffer coat and Helmut Lang jumpsuit. A journey through the museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery involves five designated zones — Safari, Mountaineering, Arctic, Deep Sea and Space. Presented within each dramatically designed “environment,” the items and the exhibition design conjure both the beauty and the dangers of extreme wilderness.

“I wish I could tell you I was thinking of the environment when I thought of this show but it sort of all coalesced together,” Mears said. “It started with the fashion question and quickly became something about the larger idea of science and exploration and our natural world.”

“Expedition” comes at a time when Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia have placed environmental issues such as climate change at the forefront of the world’s attention. As Mears put the show together, the curator realized the whole fashion industry needs to clean up its act and get woke to how “interdependent [we are] with the rest of the world.”

“Initially I just wanted to trace how clothing made for survival made its way [to fashion] — whether it was through a whimsical process or through practicality,” she told Vogue. “But I think the bigger message is we really need to wake up. Science is important. And we can’t ignore our impact on the world.”

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