Connected \\ September 18, 2019

Where fashion and design meet

Fashion and Design

Every day we make decisions about how we augment or modify our bodies. Whether we use makeup or go au naturel, pierce our skin, dye our hair or cinch our waists — how we shape and adorn our bodies can communicate who we are at a specific moment in time.

As visitors step into PEM’s new Fashion and Design gallery, they’ll be asked to think about how design affects their lives. From Alexander McQueen’s sartorial response to religious persecution, graphic skateboards by Tlingit/Athabascan designer Rico Lanáat’ Worl or witty 3-D-printed shoes by Sebastian Errazuriz, design keeps pushing and moving us forward.

Alexander McQueen, dress, designed 2007

Alexander McQueen, dress, designed 2007. Velvet, satin. Gift of anonymous donors in London. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Walter Silver.

Japanese artist, nimaiba geta (courtesan’s clogs), late 19th century

Japanese artist, nimaiba geta (courtesan’s clogs), late 19th century. Wood, straw, velvet, lacquer. Gift of Edward Sylvester Morse. © Peabody Essex Museum.

Sebastian Errazuriz, The Boss, The Golddigger and The Heartbreaker

Sebastian Errazuriz, The Boss, The Golddigger and The Heartbreaker, From the series 12 Shoes for 12 Lovers, 2013. 3-D printed plastic. Museum purchase. 2015.57.7, 2015.57.6, and 2015.57.1. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Featuring more than 200 works from PEM’s global collections, the new gallery celebrates the facets of design while showing how people have creatively responded to our changing world over the last several centuries and suggests how we might design for our future.

Design is an underlying human impulse: we design for our bodies, our environments and our societies. And, in turn, our designs influence how we live, communicate and express ourselves.

Exemplifying this is Rei Kawakubo’s Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress collection from 1997, which is considered to be among the most important and provocative in recent fashion history. As a startling contrast to the prevailing aesthetic of the 1990s, Kawakubo borrowed from fashionable styles of the 18th and 19th centuries that manipulated the busts, midsections and bottoms of men and women to meet the stylish ideal of their time.

The resulting creation, wildly rearranged to reject prevailing standards of beauty and attractiveness, allows us to see our design choices and their meanings anew.

Design has the power to inspire, surprise, motivate, distinguish, separate or unite us,” notes Petra Slinkard, PEM’s Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles. “It can just as easily define us as it can confine us.

Artists in Ningbo, China, Moon-gate bed, about 1876

Artists in Ningbo, China, Moon-gate bed, about 1876. Satinwood (huang lu), other Asian woods, and ivory. Gift of Robert W. Sarnoff, 1977. E80259. Photo by Mark Sexton/PEM.

Guests’ eyes will fixate on the Moon bed, composed of 53 separate pieces held together with only wooden pegs and wedges. Other objects highlight how design crosses from formal to military wear to body modification and even transportation, through shoes and skateboards.

Rico Lanaat’ Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan), skateboard deck, 2014

Rico Lanaat’ Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan), skateboard deck, 2014. Wood, paint. Museum purchase. © Peabody Essex Museum.

And then there’s Iris Apfel — a self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” who wants you to experience the world through her discerning, voracious and iconically bespectacled eyes. Since PEM presented Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel a decade ago, a few things happened. The exhibition and its empowering message of unbridled self-expression, creative remixing and ageless self-possession hit a cultural nerve, and soon Iris was everywhere. In the intervening years, Iris chose PEM to house her incomparable Rare Bird of Fashion collection in perpetuity.

Iris Apfel

On the third floor of the museum’s new wing, you’ll find 18 ensembles that celebrate the exuberant styling of Iris and her late husband and creative co-conspirator, Carl. Their creativity is prominently featured in the new gallery where the couple also serve as inspirational muses. While fashion and design are typically siloed in museums, the couple encourage us to break down these barriers and embrace our fundamental nature as designing creatures.

TOP IMAGE: David Gaussoin and Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Diné [Navajo]/Picuris Pueblo), Postmodern Boa (detail), 2009. Courtesy of the designers and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin.

Allow us to reintroduce ourselves. There is the new building, of course, but it does not stop there! A new PEM is launching this September – a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. Be a part of the story, follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

Join us for a new wing celebration on September 28 and 29, 2019 to officially kick off the Peabody Essex Museum’s newest and most exciting chapter yet! Tour the new space, and enjoy live music, art making and performances throughout the day. General admission is FREE. For more information, visit:

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