The new exhibition at the MoMA, Items: Is Fashion Modern?, reveals the myriad ways that fashion has helped shape the world we live in. Curated by Paola Anonelli, the show displays 111 of the most iconic fashion pieces and accessories from the 20th and 21st century. 

Fashion is all too often seen as ephemeral and transient in relation to art or design. This exhibition goes some way to complicating such understandings. Encompassing fashion and accessory archetypes that go from haute couture right down to the Casio wristwatch, the exhibition allows the viewer to consider how certain items are designed, made and shown; it couples a celebration of aesthetic brilliance with an awareness of how manufacturing and distribution processes affect our relationship with things.

The exhibition is structured by showing “stereotypes”, personal examples and even future “prototypes” that take the form of new interpretations of staple classics. The result awakens fresh perspectives on why certain styles last and continue to capture the imagination.

With so much on offer a short list of the items feels appropriate. There are ballet flats, aviator sunglasses, Chanel No5. and Converse All Stars. Diamond engagement rings, kippahs, miniskirts and oxford shirts sit beside safety pins, stilettos, tracksuits, trench coats and tights.

High fashion has its rightful place at the center of the project. Of the more contemporary pieces on show, Carlo Brandelli’s example of ‘Unstructured Tailoring’ is particularly striking. The slim, translucent suit jacket with inner structuring removed provides a light silhouette that marks an elegant move from staid and stiff sartorial practices. 

 Details shot of the artist and designer Carlo Brandelli's original 2005 designs.

The little black dress has stereotypes dating as far back as a Chanel dress from 1926 and continues up to a Versace piece from 1994. Pia Interlandi has been offered the enviable opportunity of designing the prototype.

At the same time, items such as the archetypal white t-shirt or Nike Air Force 1s, place everyday and subcultural pieces in new contexts. By focusing on these staples in the environment of the MoMA they gain a new luminosity and their socio-political importance emerges.

This is far from a generous collection of pretty clothes and things (though there are plenty of those to be found). Instead, Items shows how fashion design affects society and lies all around us, both in places where we actively seek it out and in others that might be overlooked, until now.

More on the exhibition can be found here.

And a full catalogue of the items on show can be read here.