BLURRED LINES: While numerous designers remain transfixed on the unisex fashion trend, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston will debut “Gender Bending Fashion” next year.
Considered to be the first major museum tackling the subject in a historic exhibition, the show will bow March 21, running through Aug. 25. The 60-plus boundary-pushing looks have been culled from Rad Hourani, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Palomo and Rei Kawakubo. For historical context, there are references to the garçonne look of the Twenties, the peacock revolution of the Sixties and other generational trends.
Three years in the works, the show was actually proposed before that, according to curator Michelle Finamore. “What was most enlightening was thinking about it as a very fluid conversation and one that is quite open-ended. What is happening now in terms of gender expression and gender identity is so dynamic and it’s changing by the day,” she said.
To accomplish that, she and her team spoke with Millennials, the MFA’s Teen Arts Council, local college students and Boston academics (of which there are many). “Their grounding in gender identity and expression is so amazing to me, in terms of how they approach their own ideas about gender,” Finamore said.
The Alessandro Trincone dress worn by rapper Young Thug on the cover of his 2016 album “No My Name is Jeffery” is a standout for Finamore, and the exhibit’s signature image. Other favorites include pieces from Palomo and Rad Harani, who the curator considers to be a designer who is thinking of things as truly unisex as Rudi Gernreich did. Until now though, there haven’t been many who had, she added.
The MFA will also remind people of those who helped to stretch the boundaries of gender-biased fashion such as “The Teddy Girls” in London’s East End who were wearing male attire on the street in the mid-Fifties. After sifting through the Marlene Dietrich archives at Berlin’s Kinemathek, Finamore decided on a tuxedo from the actress for the show. “That was pretty thrilling to actually go poke through everything that she had donated there,” Finamore said. “There were some really interesting conversations going on regarding a woman wearing a tux in the Thirties or the Sixties and what that really meant on a societal and cultural level.”
“Gender Bending Fashion” examines the disrupting, blurring and redefining conventions and expectations around the relationship between gender and dress. Garments on view are meant to hint at societal shifts from the past century — changing gender roles, increasing visibility of LGBTQ communities and the rise of social media as a powerful tool for self-expression. In the galleries, visitors will find individual narratives that explore issues of gender identity and expression, sexuality, race, class, pop culture, activism and social justice among other topics. Along with items from notables such as David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, the show’s multimedia presentation incorporates paintings, photographs, music and video.
All in all, Finamore hopes visitors will walk away understanding that “this conversation, even though it is particularly compelling and in the public eye right now, is not really new. It hasn’t been as public, but people have been grappling with this binary understanding of gender expression for fashion for so much of history, particularly in the 20th century, which is what I am mostly focusing on,” she said.