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April 20 2014

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Perfect Gowns

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Part Two of the sweeping Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit Fashion, A-Z opened at noon today. At this morning’s preview, editors, who trekked through the dreary mist, were cheered up by the sights of famous ball gowns and sparkling cocktail attire. “I’m always wowed by Charles James,” said the exhibit’s co-curator Jennifer Farley. She was nodding to a strapless silk taffeta gown the color of a dusty rose (pictured), from the actress Lisa Kirk, that could have doubled for sculpture. “I’ve heard that he was difficult to work with, but he was a perfectionist,” Farley added.

James, of course, was not alone in his technical feats. In contrast to Part One of the exhibition (originally called The Great Designers: Part One), Farley and Colleen Hill showcased some of the big American names, like a jewel-encrusted Ralph Lauren long-sleeved gown, a black and ivory chiffon red-carpet number by Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz, and a purple silk jersey Norman Norell stunner from 1965, glittering with sequins that had been hand-sewn and reinforced individually. “To think there was that kind of quality in ready-to-wear,” Farley wondered aloud.

Of the 60-plus looks, there were also neat tie-ins. In one section, there was a short-sleeved dress by Pierre Balmain. Further into the exhibit, Balmain’s mentor Edward Molyneux was represented. And for runway fans, there were current pieces as well, which might inspire nostalgia. In wide white and blue striped silk, a Raf Simons for Jil Sander floor-length dress from Spring 2011 was modern and sporty, which contrasted with an unforgettable Chantilly lace black ball gown by Olivier Theykens for Rochas directly across the walkway. The romantic nighttime look, from the Spring 2004 collection, is sure to elicit some sighs.

Fashion A-Z, Part Two at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Ave. at 27th St. On view May 23 to November 10.

Photo: Courtesy of The Museum at FIT

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