If the thought of peeking into a wealthy woman’s closet makes you feel uncomfortable, you are not alone. Surely there’s something odd about finding in a museum context what is ostensibly a display of personal taste (and a taste made possible by vast and inherited means, at that). And isn’t there also something improper — if deliciously so — about bringing something as intimate as a wardrobe before promiscuous public eyes?
But if the exhibition of Daphne Guinness’ wardrobe, currently on view at FIT, indulges our voyeuristic impulses, it also provides a rare opportunity to see the work of some of the finest minds and hands in fashion.
The show opens with a selection of the heiress’ shoes, arrayed like exotic fetishes behind a series of glass doors. There are towering red platforms by Nina Ricci, made impossibly precarious by the omission of a heel; embroidered chopines that seem like they might pin the wearer to the ground with their extravagant weight; and spikily weaponized boots from Alexander McQueen and Hogan. Whether or not you subscribe to the supernatural powers of feminine footwear, these shoes are dangerous.
Far less so are the exquisite garments on display in the second gallery. Although Ms. Guinness has been called a magpie for her attraction to sparkle and plumes, her wardrobe appears here as a study in precision and restraint. Organized by a set of smartly paired curatorial headings—dandyism and armor, chic and evening chic, exoticism and sparkle—the clothes are mostly black and white and often severely tailored or sculpted. Ms.Guinness’ penchant for encouraging adventurous young talent is evinced by the presence of several pieces by Gareth Pugh and the relatively unknown British designer, Hogan. A silver coat by Pugh, simultaneously spectacular and reflective, as though fashioned from the ribbons of a shredded funhouse mirror, will no doubt be a real crowd pleaser.
But the best pieces here don’t dazzle the eye with hard and shiny surfaces. Instead they invite careful and studious attention to detail—to a row of tiny and impeccable buttons on a pair of McQueen trousers, the immaculately stitched seam of an Alaia dress, a perfectly positioned panel of lace or a fine scattering of beads on a Chanel suit. In these details we can see traces of the garment’s life—not only an object of personal taste, but a collaboration of labor and design.
Daphne Guinness is on view at the FIT Museum through January 7, 2012