Fifty Years of Fashion, For Your Education


What kind of art is fashion? What does it mean, and is wearing it the same as hanging it on a wall? If the word “fashion” connotes art and the word “style” connotes lifestyle, then we are in two different ballparks. But the two are constantly blending in the world where we present ourselves everyday; we change our fashions to sync with our surroundings and influences. The museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology showcases “IMPACT: 50 years of the Council of Fashion Designers of America,” which is the prominent fashion trade organization of our time.  The gallery displays some the most influential styles by designers that have changed the way we think about clothing, whether we have consciously chosen to participate in changing fashions or not.

The designers showcased are members of the CFDA, and the clothes selected highly impacted the style of their era, a stipulation for their inclusion in the gallery.

Familiarity with designer’s style makes the clothes easy targets. It is simple to point out a Chanel evening dress with that drop-waist style Coco coined, mixed with that certain androgynous appeal, for which she was so famous. A black cutout boot with metallic flames shouts Alexander McQueen when he designed for Givenchy.

As I traveled the gallery, these types of assumptions plagued my mind and compelled me to imagine the inception of each creation.  An exquisitely cut, softly draped champagne colored Dior gown embodied the style of the 1940’s. A floor-length olive-colored shirt with a billowing long-sleeved mustard colored top was so Spanish in its style that it could not have belonged to anyone other than Oscar de la Renta, while a red jersey dress was so intricately draped that it had to be Donna Karan.

The museum’s dark walls had such a reverent feel that it only seemed appropriate to whisper. I felt I was observing the results of the fulfilled American Dream. These would be the clothes we would wear if we could ever attain that dream. That red Valentino dress could be the one I wore when accepting a Grammy, and I'd don that Channel suit when I deliver the Noble Peace Prize speech. An orange evening gown looked so Jackie O, I wondered if she would have worn it as First Lady.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, founded in 1962, is celebrating its fiftieth year of existence. Originally it was created to support aspiring talent in New York City and has expanded to the professional and critical organization it is today.

The gallery is appropriately named. There is no other way to describe the “impact” the CFDA has had upon our culture. “Fashion & Friends for Japan” fundraiser raised $400,000 dollars for Japanese relief after the tsunami. Fordham Law School and the CFDA announced the plans for a Fordham Law Institute, and NYU Stern School of Business partnered with the CFDA to join designers with MBA students. They have partnered with Target for many years and have organized several events, recently Fashion’s Night Out, intended to aid the retail world during the economic downfall back in 2008.

When we ask ourselves what kind of art is fashion, we realize that fashion is the kind of art that transcends white walls and picture frames. It is real, tangible, and we give life to it everyday. No other medium can be looked at and embody a time in the way that an article of clothing can. Fashion is an art, but it is also a philosophy, a historical element, a business and a future.

The gallery runs through April 17th.   For more information, visit: