It may seem that designers enlisting celebrities to promote their collections is a relatively recent phenomena. But in fact, the practice has been going on since the theater boom in the early 1900s. This week, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts opens its “On Stage In Fashion: Design for Theater, Opera and Dance” exhibit which traces the history of New York’s fashion industry through the theater and dance. “The stage functioned as a very effective way of presenting innovation to a large public prior to the advent of runway fashion presentations,” said Phyllis Magidson, co-curator of the exhibit. “As the stage became a larger industry and as fashion became a larger industry there was a growing relationship and this additional attraction and more and more designers seeing the advantage of putting their clothes on stage.”

 

The presentation opens with a dress worn by Julia Marlowe in an unknown production dating back to 1905 and closes with an Isaac Mizrahi gown created in 2007 for Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera. Appropriate since the show is taking place steps from the Met. All the better to serve the public, according to Barbara Stratyner, the exhibit’s other curator. “We wanted a free event at Lincoln center,” she said, “because fashion week is very much invite only.”

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