Little Red Riding Hood

Faerie Magazine editorial director Paul Himmelein recently attended the opening reception for Fairy Tale Fashion at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and walked through an enchanted forest of fashion (and took all the pictures below for your viewing pleasure). Visit it in person through April 16.

From Red Hoods to Red Shoes

by Paul Himmelein

I entered the exhibit through double doors plastered with the image of an anemic-looking Snow White laid out in a glass coffin with a poisoned apple at her fingertips. This immediately established the tone of the show.

The narrow antechamber to the exhibition provides a little inspiration and background with works by fairy-illustrators Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, an elaborate Cinderella pop-up book by Roland Pym (1950) that folds into a carousel of six proscenium-like vignettes, large photographs by Kirsty Mitchell from her award-winning “Wonderland” series and even an evening clutch that at first glance resembles an antique leather-bound book with “Once Upon A Time” embossed on its spine (Charlotte Olympia, 2013).

The first section of the show resembles a forest crowded with “Little Red Riding Hood” cloaks from the late eighteenth century to a 2015 Commes des Garçons ensemble with an oversized quilted patent leather hood. The show progresses from “Beauty and the Beast” (don’t miss the Louboutin pumps inspired by lion’s paws) to a trip down the rabbit hole with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” where designs capture the dandy accoutrements of the White Rabbit to a pompous, puffy, pincushiony Queen of Hearts. There is a stage that spotlights the watery worlds of “The Swan Maidens” and “The Little Mermaid” full of fish scaly stitches, frothy hems and feathery flourishes.

The show continues with “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and some new takes on what ruby slippers should look like and is followed by more red shoes, the possessed dancing slippers of Moroccan leather that become the demise of a young woman in a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Cinderella is represented in fashions that show her transformation from rags to glass-slipper superstar. Included is an acrylic 3-D printed pair of faceted shoes by Noritaka Tatehana to bring the story into the twenty-first century.

Associate curator of accessories, Colleen Hill, FIT’s youngest curator to ever organize a special exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology has put together a fantastical show of high fashion that finds its inspiration in the world of fairy tales. Using garments and accessories from the eighteenth century to the present, Ms. Hill examines fairy tales from the Brothers Grimms’ Snow White to Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen from Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty to Madame de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast, and the symbolic role clothing plays in them.

The show is arranged to take visitors through each of the fifteen fairy tales represented in the exhibit and to explore the relationship between the texts and the textiles, and the drama and the dress. Punctuated with accessories, artwork and even video screens running clips of classic fairy-tales such as the 1946 Jean Cocteau film La Belle et La Bête and the 1948 Powell/Pressburger adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes, the installation proves that it’s more than just a costume show.

But don’t expect to find any Disney displays here. It’s about cultured fashion not cartoon flair. These fairy tales are full-strength not the watered-down G-rated versions that animate movie screens and have little girls wanting to grow up as fairy princesses. Sinister fairies and wicked witches are here in full force as well as wayward waifs and abused stepdaughters.

In her accompanying book Fairy Tale Fashion (Yale University Press, 2016) Colleen Hill reminds us that fashion author Gerda Buxbaum wrote “fashion has countered this high-tech functionalism by emphasizing the magical and designing clothes fit for fairies or elves.” Indeed many of the show’s designs are not directly inspired by a particular fairy tale but have been designed with a similar fantasy aesthetic and can rather be linked to the story through the text.

“I wanted to include not just characters but concepts as clothing,” Ms Hill said.

Referring to an above-the-knee mirrored shift, Ms. Hill said, “I think this Tom Ford’s dress (spring 2014) epitomizes that. This is to represent the Snow Queen’s demon mirror that shatters into millions and billions of bits and some of the bits become lodged in this little boys eye and heart so he goes from being very sweet and good to being wicked and is later kidnapped by the snow queen. When I asked Tom Ford to borrow this dress, I was very open about the fact that it would represent this moment of this tale.”

Asked if she ever considered putting fairy wings on any of her mannequins, she replied, “I did. The idea of accessorizing a little bit more fully really fascinated me but I was wanting to steer clear of that but I did make a couple of exceptions with masks. One for the beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and another as wolf as grandmother. I was hoping the objects would stand on their own a little bit more, particularly with their texts.”

Faerie Magazine recommends everyone escape to this fantasy world and become lost in this forest of fairy-tale fashion.

#FairyTaleFashion on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Paul at instagram.com/lordperegrine.