By  on May 10, 2007

NEW YORK — There is no shortage of luxury items in the fashion world. The story of how they wound up as a dominant presence is a topic that will be explored starting this month by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

A new exhibition called "Luxury," which opens May 23, will examine how the meaning of luxury has changed in the past 250 years of fashion history. More than 150 garments, accessories and textiles from the 80,000 objects in the museum's permanent collection will be displayed through Nov. 10.

"It does seem more and more today that luxury has become a buzzword,'' said museum director Valerie Steele. "While there are a lot of different ideas about what luxury entails, there's also been a lot of discussion about old stealth luxury.…Now there are all kinds of luxury — democratic and proletarian. Luxury is such a phenomenon and important concept."

"Luxury" will be the fourth exhibition to be set up in the museum's Fashion and Textile History Gallery. Designs by Paul Poiret, whose life's work is the focus of the "King of Fashion" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will be among those featured in "Luxury." Contributions from Chanel, Christian Dior, Charles Worth and other great couturiers also will be showcased at the Museum at FIT, as will contemporary accessories from Hermès and Lanvin.

A brocaded silk dress, circa 1735, a Worth dress from the 1880s, and a Christian Dior white silk evening gown with gold embroidery from 1950 will be among the pieces in the show. A pair of gold Chanel gloves dating to 1932 that belonged to Tina Chow will be featured, as well as more contemporary pieces, such as an Hermès handbag, Louis Vuitton shoes and a Lanvin necklace.

Curated by Steele, the show will open with a glimpse of the politics of luxury items in the 18th century. At that time, luxury goods were considered excessive and morally corrupting, but the upper classes began to believe that luxury could be a positive contribution to the wealth of nations. The production of luxury goods provided work for artisans.

The exhibition also will touch upon how haute couture came onto the scene during the era of high capitalism in the 19th century. Around that time, Worth and Poiret were known as "artists of luxury," and companies such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton also became known for their wares.Of course, "Luxury" would not be complete without a look at how current luxury is not restricted to the elite. The show will address how marketing luxury to the masses is a multibillion-dollar business and consumers define luxury in different ways.

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