MOMA: Discussing the Fate of Fashion Future

The Museum of Modern Art has once again developed a show centering around garments, this time focusing on the last one hundred years of dress, as well as the future of accoutrement.


The last exhibit was in 1944, when renowned architect and designer Bernard Rudofsky conducted a show that asked ‘Are Clothes Modern? With Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ This year, the MOMA asks a series of questions that delve beyond the realm of modernity in fashion, by interrogating how modernity works within fashion, how it shapes us, and what system it abides by. Through the recollection of 111 items that signify different evolutions within the realm of fashion; from speedos to safety pins; hijabs to headphones; Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers jersey to Levi’s 501 jeans. Giving the items conscientious significance within fashion illuminates each item.


The show, ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ further pushes the boundaries of what fashion is, and could be, through the inclusion of entirely new designs and the integration of technologically innovative fabrics, a.k.a smart fabrics, which curator Paola Antonelli commissioned specifically for the show.


Antonelli’s goals were, “number one, to let the world know that you cannot do a history of modern design without fashion. And number two, to make people notice design where it exists. To recognise in the show objects they own or aspire to own and look at them in a different way because they’re in a museum.” The idea is to change the way that consumers view items that were once cherished and are now neglected as constructions of history and design, of the times that were and times that will be.


One of the 111 typological items includes an arsenal of little black dresses that move beyond the glamour endowed by the legacies of Chanel and Dior, by morphing from an item of canonical charm to one of innovation within textiles. The “Little Black (Death) Dress” is a piece of accoutrement that utilises the technology of thermochromic ink to become ‘responsive to the touch of grieving loved ones’, changing colour from black to white through the transference of body heat.


Furthermore, Antonelli wanted to engage with designers that were one step ahead of the rest, already involved with working on highly innovative technology within the scope of fashion design. Companies like Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow join the ranks of the fashion-forward, as do designers such as Lucy Jones, Ambush, Richard Malone, Kerby Jean-Raymond, or Pia Interlandi, among others. The brief in Antonelli’s words was, “please take this item into the present and into the future.”


Modern Meadow, a startup founded in 2011, specialises in growing what is being called the world’s first bio fabricated leather. The faux leather is made from lab-grown collagen which transforms into a realistic feeling leather product that can be molded in different ways and even sprayed onto sheets. The MOMA currently holds a cotton and leather shirt manufactured especially for the exhibit with the company planning to release a full product line next year.


Another company of interest is Bolt Threads, a Bay Area biotech company that through modification of yeast DNA is able to create proteins that mimic the structure of silk. The threads can then be weaved into fibers that form items such as its first product, a $314 necktie. For the MOMA, the company collaborated with British fashion designer Stella McCartney to create a forward-thinking mustard coloured dress.



The show successfully rejects the notion of fashion as a frivolous and commercial subject and convey its position as a form of design, evident through innovation rather than subversion.



Written by Nailah Dossa


james may