Monday, August 24, 2009

Report from NYC: "Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out"

While we were in NYC, my husband and I stopped in at my old stomping grounds, the Museum at FIT, to see two interesting exhibits. Today's post focuses on what was by far our favorite exhibit of the weekend: "Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out."

While Isabel Toledo has recently come into the public eye because of the coat and dress set she designed for Michelle Obama to wear at this year's inauguration ceremony, her work has been exhibited at FIT for years, and her husband Ruben, a noted illustrator, designed the "spinning wheel of fashion" motif used in the Museum at FIT's permanent history gallery.

Specifics of the exhibit, as well as more details about Toledo herself, can be found at the online exhibition webpage here. What I'd like to focus on is why this was the consummate Good Fashion Exhibit, enjoyable both to me and to my "layman" husband.

The exhibit took place in the Museum's downstairs galleries, a large, square, versatile space with a sort of lobby area usually used for an introductory section. The lobby section featured Michelle Obama's inaugural ensemble as well as an opening didactic panel and a wraparound timeline of Toledo's work. The first didactic introduced Toledo and also gave an overview of the structure of the exhibit, telling the visitor what the thematic sections were and how they were arranged. This was one of my favorite elements of the exhibit's text, because it let the visitor know exactly what to expect and helped them orient themselves within the exhibit, so they would never be wondering whether they had missed a section or if they were progressing along the correct path.
Speaking of which, another aspect of the exhibit that I enjoyed was its layout: each corner of the large, square space past the lobby featured a thematic area focusing on one element of Toledo's design. They did not have to be viewed in order, so visitors entering from either side of the space would have an equally coherent experience. There was a central circular area that featured a variety of Toledo's works, arranged to loosely correspond with the thematic section they were facing. This allowed the visitor to easily transition from section to section and see how all of the themes tied together.

Within the sections, didactic text was informative but brief, accessible without being simplistic; my husband read it all and understood each section and its connection to the overall exhibit. In addition, the didactics made reference to specific garments being shown, connecting the thematic ideas to the pieces in concrete ways. Many of the object labels also had silhouettes of the flat patterns of the piece being displayed, allowing the visitor to get a sense of how Toledo sculpts with fabric and turns 2 dimensions into 3 in innovative ways. There were a few garments that were mounted flat in order to display their unique shapes when off the body. The exhibit also featured some of Ruben's illustrations of Isabel's pieces, which were a great complement to the garments.

My only-- and small--gripe was that the mannequins weren't absolutely my favorite- their faces were a little stylized and they had built-in wedge feet, which was a little odd- but frankly, they allowed plenty of attention to be given to the garments and acted as proper bodies underneath them, which is all you can really ask for from a mannequin!

My husband raved about the exhibit when we left, which says a lot considering he knew nothing about Toledo going in and we had already done one fashion exhibit that morning ("The Model as Muse").

This was an A++ exhibit! Kudos to Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, and the staff at the Museum at FIT.

Has anyone else seen it? How did you feel about the exhibit? What elements are most important to you in a fashion exhibit?

"Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out" is up at the Museum at FIT until September 26.

Photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, USAF, January 20, 2009.

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