Museum Crawl: MUST See 2023 FASHION Exhibits – Africa Fashion travels to America, Hip Hop, 80’s France Fashion, and more

Museum exhibits showcase an artist, an era, or theme calling attention to its meaning, impact, or influence on culture. FIT Museum “Fresh, Fly and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style” stirs up memories of a time when the street style of Black and Brown youth had such an impact on the fashion style of hip hop musicians. Hip hop, a music genre that started in 1973 and one of the most controversial pop culture sensations, wouldn’t be hip hop without the influence of fashion iconic items like adidas (originals) sneakers, tracksuits, Kangol hats, and shearling coats that Run DMC helped to popularize.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop, Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous will enable us to interpret its historical and cultural significance.  With over 100 garments and accessories, the exhibit will offer an examination of societies’ criticism and stereotypical dismissal of this grassroots style, similar to how racism affects marginalized communities’ cultural expressions.  In spite of that, hip hop, a multi-billion dollar music genre, which has had the most crossover appeal in modern history, claimed a space of self expression for Black and Brown communities within pop culture.

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, installation view. Exhibition design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, installation view. Exhibition design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT

When you think of hip hop, you think of the music and artists, but fashion plays a powerful role in how we identify with hip hop and the transformation of it as a pop culture phenomenon.  The movement was inventive, customized, individualized by going against mainstream fashion looks, plus, accessorizing with bling and more bling was a signature statement.  Although brands like adidas, Kangol, and Jordache jeans were associated with hip hop style, the industry was not welcoming of hip hop looks and designers.  Many brands distanced themselves from the hip hop market.  But demand, competition from artists and producers, and mass potential spoke loud and clear.  I saw from my own professional experience, as buyer for Macy’s and director for adidas accessories, the evolution of global society and the industry’s acceptance, adoption, and appropriation of hip hop style.  In fact, most of the product-related sales (as with the music) came from white suburban communities.

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, installation view. Exhibition design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, installation view. Exhibition design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT

In concert with Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous is the Museum of Pop Culture’s exhibit Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop.  It explores four decades of photography and artifacts from the late 1970’s to today documenting the most influential artists (Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah, Tupac, and more) who shaped the image of hip hop through their own identities, music, and culture, with fashion being at the center of branding, representation, and style.

Jordache jeans, circa 1979. The Museum at FIT. © The Museum at FIT
adidas, 1998. The Museum at FIT. © The Museum at FIT

Fresh, Fly and Fabulous displays looks worn and made popular by artists Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Chuck D, Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, Khaled, Lil Nas X, and Cardi B, to name just a few. It will also feature designs by 5001 Flavors, April Walker, Misa Hylton, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Shirt King Phade of the Shirt Kings, FUBU, Rocawear, Wu Wear, Mecca USA, Baby Phat, Pelle Pelle, and Sean John, as well as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Versace, among many others.

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, installation view. Exhibition design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT

“After half a century, hip hop is still pushing boundaries, though now, it is not from the outside, but the center”, press statement by FIT Museum.

Curated by Elena Romero, journalist and assistant professor of Marketing Communications at FIT, and Elizabeth Way, associate curator of costume at MFIT, the show will run 8 February to 23 April 2023. 

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs présents “Années 80, Mode, design et graphisme en France” on view now through 16 April 2023.

Années 80, Mode, design et graphisme en France exhibition poster © Helmo, RSCG Agency, La Force calme poster.

From the election of François Mitterrand (french president) in 1981 to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, this historic decade, still vivid in people’s minds in France, is considered both a political watershed and an artistic turning point in the fields of fashion, design and graphic arts, where postmodernism opens up all artistic possibilities.

Années 80 at © MAD, Paris Photo: Christophe Delliere / Courtesy of MAD, Paris

Années 80, Mode, design et graphisme en France showcases over 700 artworks including objects, furniture, fashion designs, posters, photographs, videos, album covers and fanzines, retracing a decade that became synonymous with eclecticism, music – from new wave to post-punk and hip hop, and freedom of expression.  Fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler became superstars. But there was another rising star, Patrick Kelly.  His work would be an unfortunate omission from the show, and if it is not part of their collections.  Patrick Kelly (1954–1990) was a celebrated African-American fashion designer who came to fame in France.  He was the first American admitted to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, the prestigious governing body of French fashion.  His design house, Patrick Kelly Paris, garnered world attention in the 80’s.

“Africa Fashion” travels to America: Brooklyn Museum, New York – June 2023 – October 2023, and Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon – November 2023 – February 2024.

Victoria & Albert Museum curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, Dr. Christine Checinska, presents a landmark exhibition celebrating the creativity, ingenuity, and global impact of contemporary African fashions. Opened 2 July 2022, “Africa Fashion” celebrates the vitality and innovation of this vibrant scene, as dynamic and varied as the African continent itself.

Africa Fashion at the V&A Installation shot (35), courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

Over 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century and influential contemporary African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection will go on display – many for the first time.  The work of African designer pioneers; Kofi Ansah, Chris Seydou, Shade Thomas-Fahm, Alphadi, and their peers; will mark the first time in which their work will be shown in a London museum.  The new generation of ground-breaking designers will also be on display across contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, made-to-order, and street-style.

An exhibition of this scale can reveal the diverse history and culture across an entire continent, but Dr. Christine Checinska puts a perspective on the focus.  She said in a statement, “To showcase all fashions across such a vast region would be to attempt the impossible. Instead, ‘Africa Fashion’ celebrates the vitality and innovation of a selection of fashion creatives, exploring the work of the vanguard in the twentieth century and the creatives at the heart of this eclectic and cosmopolitan scene today.”

Africa Fashion, courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

V&A, like many other established institutions, recognizes the need to diversify their “privileged” designer collections, by representing underrepresented communities like the African diaspora.  The exhibition forms part of a broader and ongoing V&A commitment to grow the museum’s permanent collection of work by African and African Diaspora designers and to tell new layered stories about the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst.

Africa Fashion, courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

Must See Exhibits:

Africa Fashion, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; 2 July 2022  – 16 April 2023

Africa Fashion, Brooklyn Museum, New York; 23 June 2023 – 22 October 2023

Africa Fashion, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon; November 2023 – February 2024

Anne Lowe: American Couturier, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Delaware; 9 September 2023 – 7 January 2024

Gianni Versace Retrospective, Groninger Museum, The Netherlands; now on view – 7 May 2023

TBA (curated by Rhonda P. Hill), Parallax Art Center, Portland, Oregon; 23 October 2023 – 29 January 2024

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, The Museum at FIT, New York; 8 February 2023 – 23 April 2023

Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; 16 September 2023 – 25 February 2024

Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue; 5 May 2023 – 16 July 2023

80S Fashion, Design, and Graphics in France, The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; now on view – 16 April 2023

Madame Grès; The Art of Draping, SCAD FASH, Museum of Fashion + Film, Atlanta; now on view – 30 June 2023

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, Brooklyn Museum, now on view – 7 May 2023  

Feature image: The Museum at FIT stairwell landing featuring photograph by Jamel Shabazz. Graphic design by Courtney Sloane Design © The Museum at FIT

UPDATED: 7 April 2023

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor