Gender bending​ fashion is for everyone

Alessandro Trincone’s design at the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo by Mariana Sánchez Gaona/BU News Service)

By Mariana Sánchez Gaona
BU News Service

BOSTON — The exhibition “Gender Bending Fashion” at the Museum of Fine Arts showcased a curated conversation with the Penny Vinik curator of Fashion Arts Michelle Finamore Sunday, March 31, as part of the multiple events that complement the multimedia fashion exhibit.

A group of museum attendees gathered around Finamore in front of the two heavy doors with the name of the show in a silver lined font on a black background. The background of the title seemed to spill onto the continuous wall, and the color disintegrated into lines which signaled a timeline of gender-bending fashion moments, starting with the arrest of Amelia Bloomer in Boston for wearing pants in 1851 and ending with Billy Porter’s black evening gown with a tuxedo jacket with a puffy velvet skirt with a short train at this year’s Academy Awards.

Behind the heavy doors, Italian fashion designer Alessandro Tricone’s long-skirted, soft blue and multilayer outfit welcomed visitors to the exhibition. Tricone’s piece was part of his 2017 collection, Annodami, which became an internet sensation when Young Thug wore it for his “Jeffrey” album cover. The gallery’s black walls and sharp colored platforms accentuated the clothes on display.

Walter Van Beirendonck, Alejandro Gómez Palomo and Rei Kawakubo’s designs at the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo by Mariana Sánchez Gaona/BU News Service)

Due to the static nature of fashion, Finamore integrated music, movies and photographs to engage the public in ways other than just looking at clothes. Finamore created a playlist including gender bending artists such as Patti Smith and David Bowie. These artists were honored with a wall that displayed album covers which broke the gender mold.

While David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” was on the background, Marlene Dietrich’s cabaret scene in the 1930 film “Morroco” where she wore a tuxedo played next to her costume with top hat and all. According to Finamore, Dietrich and singer and queer icon Janelle Monae, whose red suit by Christian Siriano was on display, shared the same measurements. Finamore and her staff realized this curious coincidence when setting up the display, as the mannequins had to be soft sculptured to fit the clothes.

Finamore structured “Gender Bending Fashion” into three sections with the themes, “disrupt,” “blur” and “transcend.” In the “disrupt” section, exhibition designer Chelsea Garuanay made use of triangular platforms to display the costumes with hard edges to enforce the unsettling effect these clothes had when they first appeared.  As the exhibit moved into the “blur” section, the triangular frames became smaller and without transparent walls as lines between men and women’s wear converge. In the last section, “transcend,” Garuanay used tall pedestals with floor to ceiling horizontal screens showing runaway shows behind each platform.

The Monae and Dietrich ensembles belonged to the first section, “disrupt,” as suits are considered masculine clothes. This section showed how traditional gender roles were disrupted through clothing. Also on display was Viktor & Rolf’s Look 32, a version of the male power suit with broader shoulders and eight shirts that gave the impression of a royal collar. It was part of their Tilda Swinton inspired “One Woman Show.”  

Menswear in this section included “Sexual Object,” a floral brocade dress for men, by designer Alejandro Gómez Palomo and Rei Kawakubo’s floral jacket with a black pencil skirt, which was part of his line “Comme des Garçons.” Finamore described them as part of the fashion trend “Male Peacock” which had its roots in the 1960s with Bowie and Jimi Hendrix’s flamboyant suits.

Janelle Monae’s red suit in the middle. Designed by Christian Siriano at the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo by Mariana Sánchez Gaona/BU News Service)

Yohji Yamamoto’s suit for women with a leg imitating a pleated skirt and the other regular pants served as a transition for the next section, “blur.” This part of the exhibit covered fashion wore by man and women for tradition like the Scottish kilt or purpose like factory jumpsuits for women during WWII. Before entering the last part of the exhibit, an interactive screen displayed a digital album of 10 Bostonians who were part of a social media call out to represent fashion in the streets today.

“Transcend,” the last part of the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibit, consisted of nine outfits that could be worn by anybody. Finamore recounted that designer Anvita Sharma’s apparel, a checkered bodysuit with a transparent plastic suit over it, arrived the day the show opened.

Finamore presented the idea of the exhibition to the museum administration a few years ago, but it was rejected. “It was better to wait for a moment where more people are aware of gender issues and are part of the dialogue,” she said. “We shall see if this is the norm or a trend or here to stay, I can’t answer that,” Finamore said at the end of her guided talk on whether gender-bending clothes will become the future.

“I recently entered the workforce, and this whole concept of women wearing pants being revolutionary was something I wasn’t even aware of. It was cool for me to understand this is something people had to fight for,” 22-year-old Ritika Philip said. “Now, [its] flipped it on its head, [and for] men there can be their own kind of revolution in terms of color, [it] was fascinating to me.”

The “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition will run until August 25, 2019. Entrance is with general admission ticket.

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