Arts & Culture -The Garment District: Where It All Begins

I love New York because we are always 10 steps ahead of the rest of the world! Here we are in September with Fashion Week upon us and the models will be strutting styles for next year’s spring and summer seasons. Our iCals are overloaded with appointments and renewed energy pulses through the streets. While it’s easy to classify the Garment District as an office and work hub, BELLA takes notice of where our New York street style roots come from. With galleries and small businesses sprouting year after year, the Garment District is the perfect example of the fusion between art and commerce.

This may surprise you, but some of the most influential fashion pieces are not always on the sales floor of Bendel’s; they are exhibited at the Museum at FIT. Housed within the campus of The Fashion Institute of Technology, the museum has been holding exhibitions since 1975 and has an archive of over 50,000 garments and accessories dating back from the 18th century to the present. Now that is a closet!

Museum Director and Fashion Historian Valerie Steele comments on the role of historic garments set in a neighborhood that’s focused a season or two ahead: “Fashion is a complex and global system. It’s a part of life. The Museum provides another lens through which we can look at fashion, putting it in terms of art and history.” Steele also mentions how the museum truly serves the public by providing something for everyone with the converging of design students, industry leaders and people who just are visiting the space for the sheer admiration of aesthetic and craftsmanship. 

Looking for some ingenuity? Check out Exposed: A History of Lingerie through November 15 along with Dance and Fashion through January 3. I asked Ms. Steele if she had any “must-see” pieces: “Exposed features the most adorable French corselette from 1933 by Cadolle. It is an all-in-one undergarment with attached skirt. I also suggest picking up the exhibition catalogue, also titled “Exposed: A History of Lingerie” (Yale University Press) by our Associate Curator of Accessories, Colleen Hill.” 

If you cross the street onto West 25th, you’ll see a small blue flag waving you in. CUE Art Foundation is a contemporary art gallery presenting emerging artists and was formally located in Chelsea. Curator Jessica Gildea comments on the environment shift and how fashion and art are quite similar. “We’re always working on our exhibitions and projects one to two years in advance, but the great thing is that so are all the designers in the area — sourcing materials and working on collections that won’t launch for months. The lead time for creative projects is pretty universal, no matter the medium.” 

From a “behind the scenes” perspective, everyone lends a hand in the neighborhood, adds Gildea. She jokes how it’s amazing to have such generous neighbors who let you borrow dress forms and straight pins for site-specific installations! “It’s a really vibrant community that we’re so happy to be a part of.” 

Opening on September 6 through October 10 is a solo exhibition by Dina Kelberman, a Baltimore-based artist whose practice is driven by her obsessive online surfing and desire to order and rearrange the seemingly endless amount of visual information available on the Internet. Gildea adds, “Through her projects, many of which exist on platforms such as Tumblr, she creates a powerful testament to the way we passively meander through and consume information online. Her practice of surfing, saving and reordering merges into a broader artistic practice that distills a shared way we see the world.”

Not in the mood to view art indoors? If you step outside the museum or gallery and walk a few blocks north you’ll encounter some curious sculptures installed on Broadway from 36th to 41st Streets. On view through mid-November, artist Chakaia Booker’s The Sentinels is a body of work created from recycled tires supported by stainless steel. The public installation is an initiative spearheaded by the Garment District Alliance.

Barbara Blair Randall, president of the Garment District Alliance notes, “The Garment District’s public art program – which includes our annual Summer Art on the Plazas, Garment District Space for Public Art and Annual Garment District Arts Festival – reflects and showcases the creative spirit that has helped fuel its evolution into a vibrant, 24/7 neighborhood characterized by boutique hotels, trendy dining and nightlife options, and an eclectic mix of retail and commercial tenants.”

In addition to being the Director of The Museum at FIT, Valerie Steele is also a Garment District resident of nearly 30 years and reflects on the evolution of her neighborhood, “I’ve lived here since 1985 and I miss seeing the rolling racks of garments. However, the neighborhood has become more of a cultural district and I do see an effort to maintain important aspects of the garment district. For example, it continues to be a place of innovation for young designers.” While she hasn’t seen The Sentinels yet, it’s on her to-do list as she reminds us, “Public art enhances the urban experience and links neighborhoods together.”

Museum at FIT


Dance and Fashion exhibit images

Bonwit Teller, pink chiffon evening gown, circa 1920, USA.

photograph © The Museum at FIT.

Danskin, light purple knit leotard and navy jersey skirt, 1975-76, USA.

photograph © The Museum at FIT.

Pierre Blamain, tan and beige tulle evening gown, circa 1956, France.

photograph © The Museum at FIT.

Exposed: A History of Lingerie  exhibit images

Lady Marlene Bustier , Lace, satin, nylon

The Museum at FIT. Gift of Ady-Gluck Frankel

photograph © The Museum at FIT


Silk georgette, lace, satin. Circa 1930, USA

The Museum at FIT, Museum purchase

photograph © The Museum at FIT

CUE Art Foundation


galería perdida installation at CUE Art Foundation (*pls. note the accent on galeria, and should remain lowercase)

Courtesy: CUE Art Foundation

Alfredo Gisholt, Canto General, installation view

Courtesy: CUE Art Foundation

Goddess Clap Back: Hip Hop Feminism in Art: Curated by Katie Cercone

Photograph: Elisa Garcia de la Huerta

Chakaia Booker Public Art

Chakaia Booker, Take Out, 2008

Photo courtesy of the artist

Chakaia Booker, Shapeshifter, 2012

Photo courtesy of the artist

Chakaia Booker, Gridlock, 2008

Photo courtesy of the artist

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