Claire McCardell’s American Style to Be Spotlighted at Museum at FIT

The renewed interest in the work of Claire McCardell is still going strong, with the Museum at FIT gearing up for Wednesday’s opening of “Claire McCardell: Practicality, Liberation, Innovation.”

Decades have passed since the designer pioneered the American look, but her influence on American sportswear prevails. Zippers, pockets, ballet flats and wrap dresses were all part of the designer’s arsenals of firsts. Tory Burch, whose spring-summer 2022 collection was inspired by McCardell, is a champion of her work. Somehow, 65 years after her death in 1958 at the age of 52, the designer’s work is gaining more interest with new generations of creatives.

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Strong-willed and pragmatic, McCardell’s indelible mark — the understated (but not undone) casual American look — was forward-thinking in the previously cookie-cutter dressing of the mid-’50s. Well-proportioned and affordable, her clothes, which spanned from bathing suits to ready-to-wear, were designed with a wide range of body types in mind. Understanding that “clothes may make the woman, but the woman can also make the clothes,” McCardell once said, “When the dress runs away with the woman, it’s a horror.”

Nine McCardell-crafted garments drawn from the Study Collection at the Museum at FIT will be on display through April 16 on the FIT campus. Seniors in the school’s art history and museum professions undergraduate program Nico Frederick, Christina Pene, and Emma Sosebee have curated the show, which also includes reproductions of advertising,

In addition to the student-curated show at the Museum at FIT, the “Claire McCardell” exhibition is on view at the Maryland Center for History and Culture’s Museum in Baltimore through November. McCardell’s designs are featured with family letters, interviews and archival documents. The show was curated by the Tory Burch Claire McCardell fashion fellow Robyn Levy, whose fellowship was made possible by the Tory Burch Foundation. Last year Burch penned the foreword for the reissue of McCardell’s 1956 book “What Shall I Wear? The What, Where, When and How Much of Fashion.”

On another front, the Museum at FIT will unveil “¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today” on May 31. The exhibition will celebrate the work of designers of Latin American descent including stalwarts like Aldolfo Sardiña, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Edmundo Castillo, Victor Alfaro, and Haider Ackermann, as well as Willy Chavarria, Maria Cornejo, Isabel Toledo, Gabriela Hearst, Jonathan Cohen, Nous Etudions’ Romina Cardillo, Luar’s Raul Lopez and Kika Vargas. With text in English and Spanish, the show will feature 60 objects from the museum’s permanent collection, including multiple new acquisitions. The show will run through Nov. 12.

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