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Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour

The Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour opens to the public this Saturday, September 10, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. I attended a preview show today, and I have to say “WOW!” It is one of the most beautifully staged exhibitions I have seen. Even if you may not be into fashion, you need to see this show that not only chronicles the history of fashion design but relates many of the fashion pieces to art from the museum’s permanent collection. I think that after viewing, one will come away appreciating fashion as true art. Go see this one.

Bentonville, Arkansas – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will cast a fresh eye on two centuries of innovative and distinctly American fashion this fall in the museum’s first exhibition dedicated to fashion — Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour. Featuring more than100 designers and iconic American labels, the exhibition explores and celebrates the nation’s diverse fashion heritage and spirit of invention while spotlighting the untold stories of underrecognized and underrepresented designers, important contemporary movements shaping the industry, and American fashion’s resonance in global trends and visual culture. Fashioning America will be on view September 10, 2022, to January 30, 2023. Through seven themed sections showcasing the expanse of American fashion as the amalgamation of all things culture — from denim jeans to bathing suits, sneakers to cowboy boots, zoot suits to leisure suits, sportswear to underwear, and Hollywood glamour to street style — the exhibition emphasizes the work of Black and Native American designers and features geographical representation of fashion designers and histories from across the country.

"I always think of Crystal Bridges as a platform for inclusive storytelling, and we are thrilled to present our debut fashion exhibition boldly focused on the diverse origins and untold narratives of American fashion," says Olivia Walton, museum board chairperson. "Fashion is very much the art of our everyday lives, a medium of self-expression and culture, a wellspring of creativity and vision. We are so excited to bring these voices and stories to the heartland of America.”

The exhibition will feature pieces on loan from Vogue magazine's global editor at large, Hamish Bowles, plus other private collections and household names such as Ralph Lauren, Nike, Vera Wang, and Levi-Strauss alongside statement-making styles by designers Virgil Abloh, Carolina Herrera, Patricia Michaels, Virgil Ortiz, Anna Sui, and Isabel Toledo. The first-ever interactive digital garment to be displayed in a museum exhibition will debut in Fashioning America through a collaboration with bionic pop artist and futurist Viktoria Modesta.

Along with boasting highlights from fashion legends, Fashioning America will lift the veil on little-known fashion heroes such as Ann Lowe, who designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, and Bill Whitten, who fashioned Michael Jackson’s iconic glove. The exhibition will also tell stories of women designers and female-led businesses that found great success within the male-dominated fashion industry, including streetwear designer Olivia Anthony, corset inventor Emmeline Philbrook, entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie, and famed undergarment designer and industrialist Olga Erteszek, whose category-dominating eponymous brand began with $10 and a sewing machine.

Designs by Halston, Rudi Gernreich, Ikire Jones, and Christian Siriano, among others, represent queer culture, gender non-binary inclusivity, body positivity, and social activism, while demonstrations of sustainable fashion are layered in by zero-waste pioneers Shelly Xu and Natalie “Alabama” Chanin.

“American fashion reflects the complexity of America writ large, weaving together stories of innovation, immigration, independence, self-invention, and creativity. The sweeping story of American fashion encompasses designers from all walks of life — from the rural to the urban, from the regional to the global — who embody history past and present and represent issues related to inclusion and exclusion,” says the exhibition’s curator, Michelle Tolini Finamore. “I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to champion work that has too often been overlooked by convention and hope that the exhibition captures the role fashion plays in reflecting the American spirit to the rest of the world.”

Art features heavily throughout Fashioning America via looks such as a Warhol print-adorned dress by Halston and a Roy Lichtenstein No Thank You, dress by Lisa Perry, while works from the Crystal Bridges collection punctuate the exhibition galleries. Jordan Casteel’s bold 2018 painting, Ourlando, depicts a modern sartorialist gazing at viewers from within the colorful setting of a men’s fashion store. Howard Norton Cook’s 1930 etching, New England City, displays an early 20th-century industrial center — calling back to the legacy of America’s fashion industry roots through depictions of riverside mills and steaming smokestacks in gritty black and white.

Lively programming will unfold over the course of the exhibition and include an opening talk on September 9 with Finamore, Modesta, and Ortiz, artmaking, gallery activities, demonstrations, and workshops for all ages to deepen exploration of the exhibition and its themes. On November 12, in collaboration with INTERFORM, a Northwest Arkansas-based nonprofit supporting fashion designers and entrepreneurs, the museum will host a full day of designer panel discussions and collection presentations. Additional programming and details will be shared on the museum's website.


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