Fashionistas, rejoice!

Haute couture storms the MFA
By SHARON STEEL  |  November 9, 2006

VIKTOR & ROLF: Today Newbury Street, tomorrow — well, Sunday — the MFA.
I feared for my life when I walked into the Downtown Crossing H&M one morning last November. Stella McCartney’s H&M line was being unveiled, and women were tearing pants and ruffled tops from racks as though the fate of their immortal souls depended on it. On a regular Saturday, H&M is a delicious vortex capable of sucking you in for an entire afternoon as you riffle through piles of trendy clothes whose edge has been dumbed down in order to accommodate the critical shopper with a limited budget who wants to be sharply dressed without being shocking. The music is always too loud, the lines for the dressing rooms are laughably long, and the notion of finding a shirt in a size other than the one you saw flung on the floor is a ridiculous pursuit that ends only in heartache. But on Stella McCartney Day, nobody was safe at H&M.

Driving shoppers in was the knowledge that, with 50 bucks and a quick hand, you could walk out with a piece designed by a woman who sells similar items for thousands at her own store. This was a limited-edition run, and most of Stella’s line sold out in a matter of hours; just a few random scarves were left swinging eerily in the void. There was screaming; there was grabbing; there were energetic battles over mannequins of samples. It was the urban chain-store equivalent of a war zone, with such spoils as a pair of inexpensive well-cut skinny jeans. Was it worth it? I’m certain anyone who left with authentic Stella cargo priced for the masses would sigh, smile, and happily answer yes, even as she bandaged up the scratches on her arms and wondered when she’d be able to wear that super-tight pencil skirt.

The Swedish retailer represents what many in the industry consider the ultimate source for democratic high fashion. The Museum of Fine Arts’ latest blockbuster, “Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006,” takes its cue from the H&M philosophy. In a vein similar to the other textile exhibitions of its caliber — recently the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Sixties Fashion” and MOMA’s “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion” — “Fashion Show” sets out to prove that it’s possible to strip away the mystique associated with the insular world of haute couture and spin it into a specialized art form.

Timed in conjunction (November 18–March 25) with a “Fashion Photography” exhibit that presents prints by the likes of Cecil Beaton and images of Greta Garbo and Twiggy, “Fashion Show” was, it’s clear, not shaped to mimic the intimidating elitism associated with, say, the Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs-Élysées. There’s none of the sweaty trauma of a Project Runway challenge — which these days is probably as tense as an atelier’s inspection by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Rather, “Fashion Show” inspires the same accessible, energized sense rush of satisfaction that comes from happening on a Filene’s Basement treasure for a fraction of the original price, or a Behnaz Sarafpour top from Target’s discount-designer Go International series. Minus the hair ripping and teeth gnashing, of course.

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