Major Exhibition Exploring the Past and Future of American Fashion Opens at the New Orleans Museum of Art this July
Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour takes a broad look at fashion history with an emphasis on the spirit of innovation and the diversity of the United States’s fashion heritage. The exhibition spotlights over 100 American designers and brands with garments from the 19th century to present day.
NEW ORLEANS – This summer and fall, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) casts a fresh eye on two centuries of innovative and distinctly American fashion in Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour. Featuring more than 100 designers and iconic American labels, the exhibition explores and celebrates the United States’s spirit of innovation and the diversity of the country’s fashion heritage. The exhibition spotlights the stories of underrecognized and underrepresented designers, important contemporary movements shaping the industry, and American fashion’s resonance in global trends and visual culture. Fashioning America is on view at NOMA July 21–November 26, 2023.
“NOMA is a forum for all of the arts in New Orleans, and this momentous exhibition shows how fashion has shaped, and been shaped by, culture at large,” said Susan M. Taylor, the museum’s Montine McDaniel Freeman Director. “Fashion is one important way that we all express ourselves every day, and the story of American fashion is the story of the United States.”
In the museum’s Ella West Freeman galleries, seven themed sections showcase the expanse of American fashion as a reflection of many ideas that have transformed popular culture—from denim jeans to bathing suits, sneakers to cowboy boots, zoot suits to leisure suits, sportswear to underwear, and Hollywood glamour to street style. The exhibition features fashion designers from across the country and emphasizes the work of Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and women creators.
Among many other designs featured in Fashioning America, visitors can expect to see:
- One of the oldest American-labeled garments, an evening gown by New Orleans’s Madame Olympe.
- Designer Tyron “Marquette” Perrin’s glittery green suit and long cape donned by bounce star Big Freedia at the Miss Universe pageant held in New Orleans in 2023.
- Gowns from the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling event that helped define trends in African American fashion for half a century.
- An elegant day dress by Lloyd “Kiva” New, a pivotal figure in the history of modern Indigenous design.
- Isabel Toledo’s prototype for the inauguration suit worn by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009.
- Wedding pantsuit by Shelly Xu created entirely from deadstock fabric from famed bridal gown designer Vera Wang.
- Popular celebrity collaborations including Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty lingerie and a dress from Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy x Zendaya line.
- Suit inspired by African wax print textiles by Walé Oyéjidé for Ikiré Jones, whose work was featured in the 2018 blockbuster film Black Panther.
- Handcrafted Western wear including rhinestone “Nudie suits” by Nudie Cohn and contemporary takes by Anna Sui and Fort Lonesome.
- Accessories including a floral hat by Bill Cunningham, who later became renowned for his on-the-street fashion photography.
- Artworks that reflect on fashion, including paintings and photographs by Jordan Casteel, John Valadez, Will Wilson, Martine Gutierrez, and Roy Lichtenstein.
“In this exhibition, museum visitors will see fashion in fun, new ways—whether they are looking at a 19th-century denim frock coat or a pair of classic Air Jordans,” said Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. “Understanding how clothes are made, who wore them, and what they signify helps us better understand history and the world around us.”
In addition to demonstrating the widespread impact of media and celebrity culture on society through fashion, the exhibition highlights figures who have often been left out of the narrative of design history. Kiowa designer Teri Greeves and Ginew, the first Native American–owned premium denim collection, blend traditional craft and contemporary sensibilities to explore the complexities of Indigenous heritage. Garments by Olivia Anthony and Virgil Abloh show the crucial role that hip-hop and Black designers have played in American fashion.
The exhibition also tells stories of woman-led businesses and female designers who found great success within the male-dominated fashion industry, including undergarment designer Olga Erteszek and entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie. Other works show how designers have pushed the fashion industry forward through social activism—from reducing their environmental footprint to size-inclusivity.
“American fashion reflects the complexity of America writ large, weaving together stories of innovation, immigration, independence, self-invention, and creativity,” says exhibition curator Michelle Tolini Finamore. “The sweeping story of American fashion encompasses designers from all walks of life—from the rural to the urban, from the regional to the global—who embody history past and present and represent issues related to inclusion and exclusion. I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to champion work that has too often been overlooked by convention and hope that the exhibition captures the role fashion plays in reflecting the American spirit to the rest of the world.”
The garments, designs, and accessories on view are contextualized with modern and contemporary artworks—including eye-catching paintings by Jordan Casteel and Roy Lichtenstein; photographs from Martine Gutierrez’s Girl Friends series exploring identity and self-representation, and vintage prints giving a peek into American fashion’s industrial labor history.
Concurrent with Fashioning America, NOMA presents Ring Redux: The Susan Grant Lewin Collection in the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery on the museum’s second floor. Traveling from the SCAD Museum of Art, the exhibition highlights 100 rings by artists from around the world who have reinvented this enduring jewelry form. Traditional and unconventional materials range from gold, diamond, and pearls to found sunglasses lenses and goat hair. Ring Redux is on view at NOMA May 5, 2023–February 4, 2024.
Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour is organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, with guest curator Michelle Tolini Finamore. NOMA is the second and final venue for the exhibition.
The presentation in New Orleans is sponsored by the Eugenie and Joseph Jones Family Foundation and Cathy and Hunter Pierson in honor of Mrs. Bertie Deming Smith. Additional support is provided by Mignon Faget, Susanne and David Purvis, Robert and Millie Kohn, and Patricia Unangst.
Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour is on view July 21–November 26 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Museum admission with access to Fashioning America is $25 for adults and free for NOMA members. On Wednesdays, Louisiana residents receive free general admission to the museum, courtesy of The Helis Foundation, and on those days, tickets to this special exhibition are $10 for Louisiana residents.
The exhibition includes English and Spanish language wall labels.
Select Programs and Events
NOMA opens Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour with an after-hours NOMA at Night program on Friday, July 21, 6–10 pm, featuring headlining musical act the Lilli Lewis Project and interactive popup experiences inspired by the exhibition. During NOMA at Night, visitors enjoy late-night access to the museum, gallery talks and tours, art activities for all ages, and a cash bar from Café NOMA.
Additionally, NOMA’s annual fall gala takes inspiration from the exhibition. Starstruck: A Fashion Odyssey Presented by First Horizon is scheduled for Friday, November 10.
A full-color exhibition catalogue published by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the University of Arkansas Press is available for purchase from the NOMA Museum Shop. The book includes texts by exhibition curator Michelle Tolini Finamore and essays by Sonya Abrego, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, Emma McClendon and Lauren Downing Peters, Angely Mercado, Tiffany Momon and Torren Gatson, Xuxa Rodríguez, and Elizabeth Way.
About the New Orleans Museum of Art
The New Orleans Museum of Art is committed to uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures through the arts. With more 40,000 works of art encompassing 5,000 years of history, NOMA and the renowned Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden offer innovative experiences for lifelong learning and interpretation. To learn more, visit noma.org.
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