A curated archive looking at the history of denim to launch in New York. WGSN Denim editor Samuel Trotman reports
With its multifaceted history and its relationship with high fashion from the 19th century to the present, the story of jeanswear is somewhat of a marvel. From its humble beginnings as the sturdy fabric of choice for workers of the new frontier through to its current position as one of the world’s most beloved and frequently worn fabrics, denim has become a symbol of authenticity and is regarded as one of the most important textiles of the 21st century.
This December, The Museum at FIT celebrates this incredible story with a special exhibition entitled, Denim: Fashion’s Frontier. The show will traces the historic timeline of denim from its birth through to today with some of the most rare and unique denim pieces from along the way.
The exhibition will feature more than 70 objects from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which have never been on view. In addition to the history of jeans, Denim will examine a variety of denim garments—from work wear to haute couture—in order to shed new light on how a particular style of woven cotton has come to dominate the clothing industry and the way people dress around the globe.
Entitled Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, the exhibition begins with workpants from the 1830s-40s that predate Levi Strauss & Co.’s jeans production and a woman’s work jacket from the late 19th century, which demonstrates that denim was not only a menswear fabric.
The presentation then travels throughout the 20th century with everything from prison garb to naval uniforms, through to the interwar years, where lifestyle clothing emerged and shifted denim’s cultural associations: “Western wear” and “play clothes” of the 1930s-40s, the biker gang explosion in the 1950s, the unforgettable hippie movements in the 70s, through to 80s Calvin Klein influences and the elaborate styles of 90s hip-hop.
The importance of the Japanese denim industry is demonstrated with pieces from Studio D’Artisan and KAPITAL. These highlight the interest in “authentic” reproduction and vintage details that has spurred the growth of the Japanese denim industry over the last 30 years. And the final section of garments looks at how contemporary designers experiment with denim as a vehicle for postmodern pastiche and deconstruction. Among this section you’ll also find runway pieces from 2014 and 2015, signifying the recent resurgence of denim on runways around the world. Here you’ll see contemporary womenswear from Dries Van Noten, Chloë, and Sacaï, as well as menswear pieces from Ralph Lauren and Rag & Bone.
Denim: Fashion’s Frontier is organised by Emma McClendon, assistant curator of costume. It is on view from December 1, 2015 to May 7, 2016.