March 6 (Bloomberg) -- A glimpse of Michelle Obama’s election-night dress reminds us of how history can mark haute couture and vice versa.
“When you see Narciso Rodriguez’s dress for Mrs. Obama, it’s very moving,” said Patricia Mears, co-curator of “Impact: Fifty Years of the CFDA” and deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where the show is on view.
Diane von Furstenberg conceived the exhibition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, with 100 or so pieces contributed by its members.
Designers sent in what they felt represented them best and “drove the way in which the show is displayed,” Mears said. “We didn’t know what they were going to pick and it just felt like my birthday every day as the pieces came in.”
A rich Stephen Dweck necklace and a white hat by Patricia Underwood with a few other accessories prepare you to step into fashion history in a room that includes pieces by Geoffrey Beene, Bob Mackie, Donna Karan, Rodarte and Rick Owens.
There are outfits of all kinds, from trousers to sweaters, gowns and even a 2005 Federal Express uniform. In one array of sumptuous pieces that includes the First Lady’s dress, the colors match those of the CFDA’s logo: red, white and black.
Stan Herman, president of the CFDA for 16 years and responsible in the past for bringing New York Fashion Week to tents in Bryant Park, was “very impressed with the older designers, the ones you don’t see in Vogue and Harper’s today,” he said. “Pauline Trigere, Norman Norell. These were the people who started this organization.”
Publicist Eleanor Lambert and 50 designers created the CFDA in 1962 to help them get recognized and promoted. Five decades later, there are 400 active members.
“I think we should be very proud to be part of this industry, part of the CFDA,” said von Furstenberg, the current president. “The word ‘impact’ illustrates what American fashion is about. It’s about design and pragmatism at the same time. It’s where design and commercial blend into the highway of success.”
Don’t miss what looks like her famed wrap dress -- it’s actually a top and a skirt that evolved into her signature piece.
On the opening wall are an incredibly elaborate red-carpet-look Marchesa dress and a Norma Kamali feathered frock that could have come from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Oscar de la Renta lent a stunning golden silk-taffeta gown with a black lace top. Proenza Schouler, a brand founded 10 years ago by two students who met at Parsons the New School for Design, is represented by a lacy orange short-sleeved dress.
How did they make it in New York?
“It’s very hard, but if you have a passion and you have the talent, you have to go for it,” Mears said. “And please come to New York, that’s why we’re all here.”
“Impact: Fifty Years of the CFDA” is at Seventh Avenue at 27th Street through April 17. Information: +1-212-217-4558; http://fitnyc.edu/336.asp.
(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)
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