Updated: Sep 21, 2021
By: Bart Boehlert
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” Gertrude Stein famously wrote. But sometimes a rose is more than that – it is a joyous expression of stylish extravagance. This is the case made by the new exhibition at The Museum at FIT entitled “Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion.”
In a blooming celebration of the reopening of the Museum at FIT after the lockdown, this show presents more than 130 garments and accessories that feature rose themes or decorations.
The rose, the most romantic and fragrant of flowers, has long been a symbol of beauty, love, and poetry that has inspired artists and designers. Fashions by Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Dries van Noten, Schiaparelli, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and more are included in this show, which presents designs dating from the 18th century up to contemporary, gender-bending styles.
The exhibition was curated by Amy de la Haye, Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Dress History and Curatorship and joint director of the Centre for Fashion Curation at the London College of Fashion, along with Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories at The Museum at FIT.
At a virtual fashion symposium, de la Haye explained that in her research at FIT, she went “through every single cupboard in the museum’s vast costume collection looking for roses.” The curator noted that she was first inspired to explore the flower in fashion after discovering the beautiful, full-blown roses on the Instagram account of renowned British fashion photographer Nick Knight.
Knight arranges roses from his own garden to look weightless and cloud-like, as if in a dream, and photographs them with his iPhone. An exhibition of these photos is now on view at Waddesdon Manor, the English Rothschild estate.
“Roses have a melancholy and rather tragic poetry to them,“ Knight said during the symposium, taking a contrary view of the flower. “The rose is all about impending doom as it blossoms and fades. Its beauty is transient.”
Roses are permanently captured in the fashion and accessories on display in the exhibition located on the lower level of the museum, which begins with a “Rose Garden of Hats.” Celebrating the 1950s when women wore hats, these designs are decorated with artificial blossoms or are shaped to look like flowers.
In the main gallery, a “Rose Garden of Fashion” features mannequins arranged within edgy black garden trellises. A white debutante dress from 1937 by American fashion designer Charles James explodes with colorful silk roses at its bodice, while oversized silk tulle blooms tumble down the front of a white organza Rodarte dress from 2007.
Paler roses in white and pink offer a subtler approach. Sculpted fabric flowers decorate a 1919 shimmering silver lamé evening dress by the French couture house Boué Soeurs. A silk brocade evening dress by the British designer Lucile from 1914 is tied at the waist with a pink ribbon and rose.
Men's fashion delved into the rose rage as well, especially during the 18th century when gentlemen’s clothes were highly embellished. For example, in the exhibition, you will find elaborate embroidered florals and leaves shining on an American men’s dark blue wool jacket and waistcoat from 1790.
Perhaps the most joyful embodiment of the flower is Halston’s 1980 “American Beauty Rose” silk organza evening dress. In a vivid rose red color, the skirt of the strapless gown is spread exuberantly around the mannequin, capturing the richness of the rose.
While many people found refuge in nature during lockdown, this show offers visitors a welcome opportunity to return to the museum and enjoy a visual treat of fashion inspired by nature.