Why do fairy tales possess such enduring popularity? I think it’s the element of fantasy, of neat division between good and evil, of dreaming of that happy ending. For me they have more of a nostalgic appeal. I grew up on Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” and their songs unfailingly make some kind of feeling swell up within me. I haven’t seen the more recent animated films such as “Brave,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Frozen,” though many of my peers have enjoyed them. I did recently read a collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, which like the Grimms Brothers’, are usually darker than their Disney renditions. In any case, fairy tales old and new take us to places where odd and extraordinary things happen.
High fashion has that same fantastical allure. Everyday clothing’s primary function is to cover us per societal convention, but sweeping skirts add drama and architectural lines turn fabric into sculpture.
The current exhibit “Fairy Tale Fashion” at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York combines story with finely draped mannequins. The outfits, some darkly elegant, some whimsical, are each footed by a concisely told fairy tale.
Sleeping Beauty’s dresses were dreamy. The beautiful piece on the right fluffs out on top, then perfectly hugs the body before fluting out like an inverted daffodil. As for the Marchesa gown on the left, I usually prefer cinched waists, but even I was taken by the soft uninterrupted layers of what I imagined to be moonlit fabric as Briar Rose made her way through the forest.
This intricate dress and headpiece by Dolce and Gabbana had a harder edge. I think I’d enjoy wearing this armor of tough femininity while stomping through the hectic subway environment in New York. Who would get in my way?
This gold and black dress in the Alice in Wonderland set shone under the muted light. I see it at an evening version of the Mad Tea Party. In the Beauty and the Beast group, I honed in on two pieces: a pretty, printed long-sleeved dress with heaps of material suspended in the air from designer Mary Katrantzou’s fall 2012 collection, and a white dress from Rodarte’s 2007 spring collection that would have been prim if not for the bold roses down the front. Both are not over the top but inch right to the edge.
How about these dark Little Red Riding Hoods?
And then you’ve got the wolf in his nightgown…
These three dresses were paired with a disturbing story by the Brothers Grimm about a girl whose father wants to marry her after her mother’s death. From left to right, they embody the stars, moon, and sun.
A literal representation can be too much, but I found this dress littered with stars quite lovely with just the right amount of clustered and scattered stars. It was designed around 1930 by Mary Liotta, on whom a brief internet search yielded nothing.
Cinderella’s dresses of gold and silver were accompanied by shoes that included a subtly-colored, butterfly-adorned pair by Christian Louboutin.
This is just a taste of the exhibit, which is up until April 16 and free to the public. I highly recommend it if you happen to be in New York and seek a little enchantment.