The bikini. The hijab. The biker jacket. The hoodie. These items have become ubiquitous – a wardrobe staple for millions around the world – but how did they become a part of modern life?
New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern? looks at 111 pieces of clothing that have had a profound impact on popular culture and the stories behind them. Curated by Paola Antonelli and Michelle Millar Fisher, it is MoMA’s second fashion exhibition (the first was in 1944) and features a mix of high-end and everyday items. Couture pieces by Comme des Garçons appear alongside balaclavas and sports jerseys.
For the exhibition catalogue, MoMA commissioned five photographers – Catherine Losing, Kristin Lee Moolman, Omar Victor Diop, Bobby Doherty and Monika Mogi – to shoot items from the show. Each photographer was given eight pages to fill and an equal share of garments to photograph.
“The only rule was that we had to cover every item in our section,” says Losing, who worked with set designer Anna Lomax to shoot 19 items from the Aran sweater through to the bucket hat.
“It didn’t actually have to be a photograph of the pieces that were being included in the show – it could be a conceptual representation. [The curators] were very keen that each photographer just took the list and ran with it in their own style with their own ideas,” she explains.
The result is a fresh take on familiar designs – a new look at items that many of us encounter every day without a second thought.
Losing and Lomax used leggings and a large quantity of salt to create a striking interpretation of Commes des Garcon’s iconic Dress Meets Body collection and composed a slightly sinister image of balaclavas arranged in a shop window – an image that reflects on the balaclava’s role in crime and protest.
“I wanted to push the boundaries of traditional exhibition catalogue photography [and was] keen to avoid that static and archival style usually employed by museums in their accompanying literature,” says Losing.
Diop created images in the style of playing cards to represent the head wrap and the hoodie plus 19 items from Gore-Tex through to Monogram. Doherty’s images include surreal shots of a pencil skirt and a salwar kameez while Mogi’s include chinos and Doc Martens.
Kristin Lee Moolman and collaborator Ibrahim Kamara gathered items from a second hand clothes market in Johannesburg for their shoot. Moolman’s images show models wearing several items at once – such as stilettos with Spanx and a sports jersey and Y-3 shoes with a white t-shirt.
Images appear in between essays on each of the garments included in the exhibition, arranged in alphabetical order. MoMA says photographers were chosen for their “idiosyncratic talents and distinctive points of view”.
“Given free rein, some chose to shoot the exact objects on the checklist while others took the items as prompts from which they abstracted. The results speak to five very different strategies of documentation that are as much still life as fashion photography, and mine the histories of advertising and graphic design as well as conventional modes of sartorial presentation,” the curators explain in an introductory text.
Dashiki, door-knocker earrings, and Dutch wax interpreted for Items: Is Fashion Modern? by Monika Mogi. © 2017 Monika Mogi. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York
“The photographers have used the 111 items on the list as lenses through which to investigate form, colour, gesture, environment, and more. The resulting pictures embrace fashion photography and yet carry us beyond fashion into the realm of design and its many intersections with culture, technology, art, anthropology—in other words, with the world.”