Stamp Your Passport at the Museum at FIT

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Nothing in life is free, especially when you live in New York City.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the Museum at FIT. Not only is this museum completely and totally focused on fashion — it’s also free.

The current exhibition, Global Fashion Capitals, focuses the globalization of design. No longer is the world’s aesthetic dictated by Paris, New York, London and Milan. Nowadays, scores of other cities host their own Fashion Weeks — and thanks to social media, anyone can form an educated opinion on each country’s latest designers.

The exhibit explored stand-out designs from 16 newer, slightly under-developed markets, from Kiev to Melbourne. It was a fascinating glimpse at how fashion is shaped by its region while still being influenced by the classic shapes established by the couture-trained stalwarts of France or Italy.

Here were the stand-out looks and takeaways:

A Balenciaga dress from 1959.
A Balenciaga dress from 1959.

For one, the French designers are worshipped for good reason. All of the French designs on display were decades old — the chartreuse cocktail dress above was made in 1959 — but they all looked contemporary and fresh. It’s hard not to be impressed by this degree of sophistication and classicism.

But French supremacy is nothing new. I was equally pleased with the new designs, like these embroidered New Balance sneakers by Ricardo Seco of Mexico.

Sao Paolo was represented with these beaded New Balances.
Ricardo Seco of Mexico designed these beaded New Balances for his 2015 Dreams collection

I was amazed by the level of creativity in some of the creations. It was a gust of oxygen at a time when American designers tend to be obsessed with straightforward pragmatism. (Sure, there’s artistry in the American market, but mostly everyone wants to make money and sell lots of stuff.)

So, I was practically giddy when I saw this fringed dress, which was constructed to reveal a hidden character across the bodice.

This dress' flapper fringe has been trimmed to reveal a face.
This dress’ flapper fringe has been trimmed to reveal a face.

I also loved seeing how trends threaded their way across continents and decades, unspooling across multiple designers’ psyches. The photo below features three Italian design houses: Versace, Prada and Stella Jean (left to right).

But I was struck by the similar elements in the splashy leopard rococo Versace getup  on the left and the Stella Jean prints on the right. There are at least 20 years between the two designs, but the  common roots are clear. (And note how Stella Jean’s actual prints are inspired by the designer’s Haitian heritage — a showcase of the modern mash-up aesthetic.)

Representing Italy? The grand triumvirate of Versace, Prada and Stella Jean (L to R)
Representing Italy? The grand triumvirate of Versace, Prada and Stella Jean (L to R)

Global Fashion Capitals is running until Nov. 15, 2014. This is a small museum, so you’ll need less than an hour.

Have you seen this exhibit? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A green-skirted creation from Delpozo.
A green-skirted creation from Delpozo.