Fabulous Fashion

From Understated Elegance to Provocative Panache02.Jacqueline de Ribes by Richard Avedon, 1962

There’s absolutely no reason to give in to winter doldrums when there’s so much beauty and creativity on display in the city’s museums. This month is especially glorious, with several stellar shows devoted to fashion and style, from classic haute couture to thought-provoking ensembles. These three examples will leave you stimulated, educated, and truly inspired.

The Met’s Costume Institute celebrates the life of Countess Jacqueline de Ribes (born 1929 and still thriving) with a sumptuous exhibit devoted to her inimitable chic. Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style includes approximately 60 haute couture and ready-to-wear outfits by various designers that are drawn from her personal collection, as well as some of her own fabulous fancy-dress creations. Born into an aristocratic French family and married at the age of 19, de Ribes is an independent spirit who went to work at a young age for Oleg Cassini and Emilio Pucci. A muse to Yves St. Laurent and other top designers, she often drastically altered traditional ballgowns to fit her own aesthetic. Several of these pieces are on view, in addition to designs by Giorgio Armani, Balmain, Bill Blass, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino and John Galliano, dating from 1959 to present, along with photos and other ephemera illustrating her progression from stylish teen to the epitome of Parisian elegance. (Through 2/21, 1000 Fifth Ave.)

Fairy tale garments have long inspired real-life clothing and vice versa; currently the Museum at FIT is paying homage to that symbiotic relationship with Fairy Tale Fashion, a fantastic exhibit. Just as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson used modes of dress to symbolize character attributes and transformation in their stories, designers have taken outfits worn by Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood to various levels of high fashion. More than 80 objects in imaginative, fantasy-like settings are presented here, dating from the 1700s to present. The exhibit illustrates 14 fairy tales, divided into four sections: Forest, Castle, Sea and Parallel Worlds. Among the many stunning pieces on display are Alexander McQueen’s deep emerald velvet dress featuring copper-colored beads that create a motif of cascading hair (“Rapunzel”); a Giorgio di Sant’Angelo ensemble with a shredded chiffon skirt from his 1971 “The Summer of Jane and Cinderella” collection; and a pair of bright red, crystal-encrusted stilettos by Christian Louboutin that evoke the iconic footwear of The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy.  (Through 4/16, Seventh Ave. at 27th St.)

A provocative exhibit incorporating fabric and fashion, Ebony G. Paterson: Dead Treez at the Museum of Arts and Design is the first show in New York devoted solely to the Jamaican-born artist. Paterson’s richly adorned mixed-media installations and visually stunning jacquard photo tapestries are a commentary on visibility via class, gender, race and the media. A life-sized tableau of 10 male mannequins dressed in eye-popping floral fabrics is a meditation on dancehall culture and fashion; while the seductively ornate tapestries depicting murder victims “trick” the viewer into seeing those who are often socio-economically invisible. The museum’s Tiffany Jewelry Gallery continues the theme with Paterson’s …buried again to carry on growing…, an installation that transforms the gallery into a garden of poisonous plants in which bodies adorned in patterned fabrics lie, casualties of violence. Pieces of jewelry from MAD’s permanent collection are arranged as though they once belonged to these victims, who are vanishing into the undergrowth. (Through 4/3, Two Columbus Circ. at 58th St.)

(Photo Credit: Jacqueline de Ribes in Yves Saint Laurent, 1962 
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Richard Avedon,©The Richard Avedon Foundation)