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NEW YORK — The Museum at FIT held a two-day symposium on Friday and Saturday to celebrate its current exhibit on display, “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.” The exhibition, which will run through early January, features iconic pieces from gay designers, including Cristóbal Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Pierre Balmain.
The free event kicked off on Friday morning with opening remarks from Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Over the course of the two days, 20 speakers — including Simon Doonan, Hal Rubenstein and Ralph Rucci — took the stage in a series of conversations and lectures all pertaining to the cultural impact of queer fashion. Session topics ranged from serious (“The Fashion of Philanthropy;” “Reality Check: Gay Bashers and Bullies”) to wholly silly (“The World Was Safer Sitting Under My Grandmother’s Singer Sewing Machine: A Sissy’s Remembrance of a Boyhood Filled With Butterick Patterns and Bouffant Palaver”).
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Drawing the largest crowd was exhibit curator Valerie Steele’s one-on-one conversation with Fran Lebowitz, which touched upon the subjects of personal style, Marlene Dietrich and gay designers. Here, a few sound bites from the endlessly quotable author.
• On refusing to lend clothing to the exhibit: “You mentioned other women whose suits you had, and one of them was Marlene Dietrich. The reason I didn’t lend to you is because I don’t have enough suits to not have one for six months. You again invoked Marlene Dietrich, and I then had to explain to you that she no longer needs her suits. And when you are done with Marlene Dietrich’s suits, I wouldn’t mind having one myself.”
• On gay fashion designers: “That’s a serious question? Why are there straight fashion designers? That would be my question. And why are there so many straight men at fashion shows? It’s like going to a hockey game now. Can’t something be done about that?”
• On being voted to Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List: “If I knew people were going to vote for me, I would run for mayor. I would rather be the mayor. I like being on the best-dressed list, but I would prefer to be the mayor. You would prefer that I be the mayor, too.”
• On current fashion trends: “Usually, I think worst fashions are old ones. I really can’t stand to see things come back and back and back. I probably have already seen platform shoes come back three times. I’m especially shocked when something that was bad to begin with comes back. It’s as if every four years Richard Nixon is president again.”
• On the appeal of leather: “Sex. That’s the appeal. That’s it. There is no other appeal. It’s durable. It lasts longer than sex — which is why, at a certain age, you should give it up.”