Sep 20, 2019 | By Athena Chen
Much is made, and derided, about the advent of the listicle. We have delighted in their inclusion in our social media feeds, and then grown bored with their ubiquity. But while Buzzfeed may be credited with its invention, magazines were relying on top tens long before digital news publications came along and turned the media world on its head. I started my career with an internship at Glamour magazine in its very early days, and delighted in eavesdropping on editorial meetings where the teams worked out how many enticing numerical references they could get onto the cover of each issue. I can still be lured into grabbing a travel magazine if it promises to tell me the 101 most beautiful hotel rooms in the world, or the latest issue of Elle for its ultimate countdown of new Autumn ankle boots – and I work somewhere that employs hundreds of people to predict these very things.
Everyone likes a list; it gives order, clarity and simplification to a situation. And as someone who grew up in a family where every weekend started with a to-do list, I still order my life by them (I wrote one before starting this article).
The Museum of Modern Art’s first fashion exhibition in over 70 years – Items: Is Fashion Modern? – then could be my ultimate listicle. Comprising 111 iconic fashion items, expertly curated by Paola Antonelli and Michelle Millar Fisher, we at WGSN are over the moon to be major supporters of the exhibition, which officially opened in New York City over the weekend.
Unlike the many fashion exhibitions held at the V&A in London, or the MET down the road in NYC, the curators of Items have put the exhibition together with a very specific design slant. There is little showy about the placement of each item. They stand in their right, and as typologies of each item, rather than famous examples (although there are more than a few celebrity pieces to make you smile, including a rather fabulous pair of Elton John’s platform boots).
But it isn’t just about fashion, or design, this is also about politics and economics, with the burkini placed next to the bikini, and a collection of bandannas just round the corner from a fur coat and diamond engagement ring.
While the exhibition was conceived as a retrospective of classic pieces of design and fashion, the curators have indulged themselves with a peak to the future as well. There are ten prototypes commissioned by artists that imagine how certain items may be reinterpreted in the coming years. The little black dress then becomes a heat-sensitive death shroud that changes colour where the deceased’s loved-ones’ hands touch it. It’s quite a juxtaposition next to Liz Hurley’s infamous Versace safety-pin dress.
There are items as diverse as sunscreen, a Fitbit, a Wonderbra, bum bags and the hoodie on display, as well as burkas, kaftans and the kente.
The final piece of the exhibit is a simple white T-shirt. A sort of palate cleanser after the mix of items that precede it.
Well, not quite the final piece. While 111 might sound like a pretty extensive list, visitors are already suggesting additions.
I’m giving my vote to the humble tube of mascara. If red lipstick and YSL’s Touche Eclat both get a look in, then I reckon mascara should, too.
Find out more about the exhibition here.
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