The 25 Most Iconic Fashion Ensembles in the History of the Museum at F.I.T.

Just in time for Fashion Week comes an installation showcasing the Fashion Institute of Technology's most influential exhibits ever.

Commes des Garcons iconic fashion
Commes des Garcons Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

For many, fashion is at a crossroads: Some in the industry bemoan the lack of inspiration and creativity, as well as the diminishment of the couture market in favor of fast fashion. Just in time, The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology is giving us all a shot of perspective—and celebrating its 50th birthday—with a new installation, "Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT."

Taken entirely from the museum's permanent holdings, more than 80 looks are on view from over 30 exhibits, including "Fashion and Surrealism, "The Corset" and "A Queer History of Fashion." Museum director Valerie Steele, who oversaw the retrospective is, calls it "intelligent, innovative, and independent"

"Fashion curators are becoming increasingly interested in exploring the history of collecting and exhibiting fashion," she says. "[Exhibiting fashion] is important because no field can progress if it doesn't know where it has been and why."

Related: The Who, What, and Wear of New York Fashion Week 2019.

Steele believes the fashion industry is struggling "with the split between luxury and fast fashion." Small independent designers, often the ones who push things forward, are caught in the middle.

Below, check out her picks for the most iconic outfits that have graced the Museum at FIT over the past half-century.

Poiret iconic fasion
Paul Poiret Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

1. Paul Poiret, Persian fancy dress costume (1919).
"He is a genius designer who was forgotten after his death in the 1930s."

Adrian
Adrian Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

2. Adrian costume for Greta Garbo in Camille (1936).
"This dress was featured in the 1971 live fashion show at FIT. Hello, Hollywood!"

james iconic fashion
Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

3. Charles James, red silk Sirene dress (1940). Donated by Doris Duke and Featured in the 1987 FIT exhibit "Fashion & Surrealism." "Charles James is one of America's greatest designers. 'Fashion & Surrealism' was also the first show that really looked at fashion as art."

Madeleine Vionnet iconic fashion
Madeleine Vionnet Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

4. Madeleine Vionnet, cream bias-cut silk dress (1930).
"Madeleine created body worshipping dresses that have continued to influence designers such as Halston," says Steele. "This particular dress was featured in the '3 Women' exhibition, which spotlighted three women who really created liberating clothes for other women."

Clare iconic fashion
Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

5. Clare McCarell, white pique dress (1951).
"Clare McCarell was the so-called creator of American sportswear, which started, predominantly in New York, in the 1940s and 1950s. These were clothes that were comfortable and wearable and worn by young, forward-thinking women."

Rei Kawakubo iconic fashion
Rei Kawakubo Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

6. Rei Kawakubo for CDG, top and skirt (1983).
"This was featured in 1987's '3 Women' exhibition, which explored female designers who created women-friendly clothes."

Halston Iconic fashion
Halston Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

7. Halston, off-white hammered silk satin evening dress (1976).
Featured in the 1991 "Halston: Absolute Modernism" exhibition and 2015's "YSL + Halson: Fashioning the 70s'" - "Two fantastic shows for fashion connoisseurs," says Steele.

Madame Gres iconic fashion
Madame Gres Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

8. Madame Gres, pleated navy silk jersey evening dress (1971).
"This was a gift of Mica Ertegan and was featured in the 2008 "Madame Gres: Sphinx of Fashion"exhibition. Madame Gres was one of history's greatest fashion designers."

Thierry Mugler iconic fashion
Thierry Mugler Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

9. Thierry Mugler, vampire dress (1981).
Featured in 'Gothic: Dark Glamour" (2008). "A sexy scary dress in a sexy, scary, smart exhibition about subculture and style."

Issey Miyake iconic fashion
Issey Miyake Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

10. Issey Miyake, red plastic bustier (1983).
Featured in "The Corset: Fashioning the Body" (2000). "It was a show about the most controversial garment in fashion history," says Steele. "Why did women wear corsets for 400 years? They never stopped—they just internalized corsetry through diet and exercise."

Junya Watanabe iconic fashion
Junya Watanabe Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

11. Junya Watanabe, denim dress (2002).
"The dress was featured in "Japan Fashion Now"(2010) and also in our "Denim" exhibition—totally avant-garde Japanese fashion."

Vivienne Tam iconic fashion
Vivienne Tam Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

12. Vivienne Tam, Mao dress (1995).
"This Vivienne Tam dress has become iconic because its characteristics were so striking in a kind of Pop Art way. It was featured in "China Chic" (1999) and again in the big China show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago. The dress features a very compelling use of visual imagery on clothing. And of course, Vivienne Tam Mao was one of the first Chinese-American designers to become internationally known."

Charles James iconic fashion
Charles James Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

13. Charles James, Tree dress (1955).
"This was featured in our "American Beauty" (2010) exhibition."

H. Naoto iconic fashion
H. Naoto Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

14. H. Naoto, Gothic Lolita ensemble (2008-09).
It was featured in "Japan Fashion Now" (2011)—the Japanese subcultural style is so incredible."

Alexander McQueen iconic fashion 1
Alexander McQueen Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

15. Alexander McQueen, Plato's Atlantis dress (2010).
"This is from Alexander McQueen's last completed collection, which was so unearthly and powerful."

Gianni Versace iconic fashion
Gianni Versace Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

16. Gianni Versace, Marilyn Monroe suit (1991).
Featured in "A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk" (2013). "Versace was one of the first designers that was openly gay. Andy Warhol also inspired the print on this suit."

YSL iconic fashion
Yves Saint Laurent Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

17. YSL, pinstriped pant suit (1967).
"This suit is Also from "A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk" (2013). The first exhibition about LGBTQ influence on fashion. Tim Gunn calls it 'groundbreaking'."

Alexander McQueen iconic fashion 2
Alexander McQueen Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

18. Alexander McQueen, velvet evening gown with gold bugle beads (2007).
"This dress was featured in "Fairy Tale Fashion" (2016) -- a magical show. Such a beautiful dress and one of our favorite McQueen's in the collection. We featured it because the beading replicates long, blond hair. We positioned the gown in a section about Rapunzel and put it in front of a textile that portrayed long, blond hair."

Prada iconic fashion
Prada Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

19. Prada, fairy ensemble (2008).
Featured in "Fairy Tale Fashion"(2016). "We requested this outfit specifically from Prada. It was a very powerful look from that collection. As an aside, I also happened to wear a very similar ensemble for a photo shoot with Vogue about artistic couples in New York that featured me and my husband."

20. Commes des Garcons ensemble with red patent leather hooded cape (2015).
Featured in "Fairy Tale Fashion" (2016). "Such a genius outfit! Anyone who sees it is completely taken away. As soon as we saw it we requested to buy it. We placed it next to a real Little Red Riding Hood from the 18th century."

Lisa Folawiyo iconic fashion
Lisa Folawiyo Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

21. Lisa Folawiyo dress (2015).
Featured in both "Global Fashion Capitals" (2015) and in "Black Fashion Designers" (2017).

Louboutin iconic fashion
Christian Louboutin Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

22. Christian Louboutin, fetish ballerina shoes (2007).
"This unique show was featured in "Shoe Obsession" (2013), "which examined our cultures ever-growing fascination with extravagant and fashionable shoes."

Stephen Jones iconic fashion
Stephen Jones Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

23. Stephen Jones for Christian Dior, haute couture corset hat (2003).
"Jones has made many hats for Dior's couture. Such a witty, surreal trope."

Rick Owens
Rick Owens Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

24. Rick Owens, batwing jacket ensemble (2006).
"This was featured in "Gothic: Dark Glamour" (2008) which was the first exhibition devoted to the gothic style in fashion."

Lucile iconic fashion
Lucile Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

25. Lucile suit (1913).
"This dress was featured in "Designing the It Girl" (2005), a collaboration with FIT's Graduate School. Lucile is a cult favorite among fashion connoisseurs—we have a small but fine collection of Lucile. Every year, we teach a course at FIT on how to put on a museum-quality exhibition and Lucile's garments have been used as great examples."

"Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT" runs through April 20.

The 25 Most Iconic Fashion Ensembles in the History of the Museum at F.I.T. | Culture