The educational and cultural-influencing aspects of fashion exhibitions are often eclipsed by their visual appeal, but a few new exhibitions are set up to be more thought-provoking.
Next month visitors to the Bard Graduate Center’s “French Fashion, Women and the First World War,” will get a better understanding of wartime textiles and fashion, French-American fashion allegiance, the seamstresses’ strike of 1917, tension driven by women’s increased self-reliance, and the question of postwar women’s rights. Along with such garments as a 1917 Callot Sœurs daytime dress, the war’s impact on the French fashion industry is examined. In August and September 1914, German troops bombed French factories in Lille, Turcoing and Roubaix to try to destroy the textile industry. Manufacturers and designers banded together to try to salvage the losses, focusing production on Lyon-made silk textiles, instead of the wool, cotton and linen textiles produced in the north. Parisian couture houses pitched “war crinoline,” as the new fall silhouette, urging domestic and foreign buyers and clients to purchase it to help the French war effort.
With 8 million French men away at the front, women replaced men in many positions. To try to squelch the advancement of women’s suffrage and other freedoms, the French government did not provide uniforms for those public service jobs. Women, in turn, wore their own dresses and skirt suits with armbands or hats signaling their status. When Paul Poiret and Jean Patou fought for their country, Gabrielle Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Jeanne Paquin were among the female designers who gained attention. When the show bows on Sept. 5, two rare examples of early Chanel archives — a silk jersey blouse from 1916 and a hat from spring 1917, will be shown in the U.S. for the first time. Historians Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjian have curated the show. Visitors will see for themselves how wartime fashions represented a new practicality with the rise of the skirt suit, the introduction of pockets, and the use of “sportswear” textiles like jersey. Stretching over three floors, the exhibition will be on view through Jan. 5.
Another fashion-related learning experience can be found at the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. As an unlikely place as that sounds, three designers are among the 24 artists showcased in “Math Unfolded: The Mathematical Art of Origami.” Running through Jan. 1, the show features engineer-turned-artist/designer Uyen Nguyen’s Winwin handbags, computation scientist Madonna Yoder’s textile smocking patterns and jewelry from Brooklyn-based Adrienne Sack.
Charlene Morrow, chairperson of Origami USA and the exhibit’s co-curator, said this is the first exhibition of its kind in North America to focus on mathematical themes. Given the interest level, discussions are under way to stage the show in other cities, she said. “Certainly, origami is influencing a lot of different disciplines so fashion is one. Science is another and architecture is another. It seems to be a very attractive thing for anybody who works in an area that involves anything structural.”
Before starting her company in 2017, Nguyen collaborated with Vogel’s designer Lea Freni for Vancouver Fashion Week in 2015. Nguyen also has two prototype skirts in the show. She hasn’t yet figured out how to mass produce them, due to the amount of hand labor involved. With her Winwin site, Nguyen’s $2,450 “Antiprisms” handbags are named for the mathematical structure that describes its structure.
In addition to starting the Cooper Union’s origami club as an undergrad, she did a post-grad research project at Cornell University analyzing the mechanical properties of a couple of folding structures. There, she met Freni, who was then a fashion student, and agreed to collaborate. Nguyen first created designs by experimenting with freehand folds on paper. Her work has required precise calculations and crease pattern designs finessed on a computer.
More approachable will be the Shoebox Museum’s “Icons and Innovators in Sneaker Packaging,” which opens Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. Co-curated by Matt Halfhill, founder of Nicekicks.com, the pop-up exhibition will only be there through Aug. 31.