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#ItemsMoMA: The Future of the Pencil Skirt

From the left to the right: Marilyn Monroe, Victoria Beckham and i-am-chen. Skirt. 2017. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?.

Currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Pencil Skirt is included in Items: Is Fashion Modern? as one of the 111 items that have had a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries—and continue to hold currency today.

The item

The first pencil skirt was designed by Christian Dior in the 1940’s as a reaction to the shapeless flapper gowns and the impractical Hobble Skirts. As well as most of the fashion icons, Hollywood played a significant role in popularizing the piece, with ambassadors like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. By the beginning of the 70s, with hemlines rising from the floor to calf length, women embraced what today is the classic pencil skirt, with it becoming an everyday workwear attire. For a fashionable appeal, women adopted this curvy, feminine look and began to pair with fitted tops and sweaters tucked into accentuated waistlines.

“A move towards a smarter aesthetic is noted throughout the Spring Summer 18 collections, and the pencil skirt is re imagined in new guises, tracked as the biggest subcategory within skirts, holding 18% of the mix for S/S 18.”, reports Senior Womenswear Editor for WGSN, Kirsty Sears. “Designers adopt a wealth of new detailing to update this wardrobe staple, spliced hemlines, cut about prints and draw cord rushing add a modern twist. Remaining true to its traditional silhouette, it sits high on the waist and fitting to the female form, perfectly matched with a stiletto heel.”

What’s next?

Unlike traditional pencil skirts, the Lycra in Chen’s prototype skirt – commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art for its current Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition – makes it elastic, so it easily fits the body and allows more flexibility and mobility. This skirt is so densely knitted with nontraditional yarn that it is no longer recognizably knitwear – it is underpinned by highly intricate and sophisticated fabric structures. The elaborate patterns, rich colours and distinct textures are all knitted into one integral piece of seamless fabric, as if the fabrics are born this way, natural and pristine.

i-am-chen. Skirt. 2017. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?.

While a traditional pencil skirt could have over twenty components that require much labor to assemble, the prototype here consists of only three pieces that were easily sewn together. The components were knitted to fit the right size and none further cutting was needed, and thus less waste of material. Lastly, the relatively strong structure of the fabric maintains its form without getting wrinkled.

Items: Is Fashion Modern?

The exhibition will run from October 1, 2017 to January 28, 2018, at The Museum of Modern Art, with major support by WGSN. Plan your visit here

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