Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour

New Orleans Museum of Art

This fall, Passion Lilie is honored to be featured in a stunning, thoughtful exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). From July 21 – November 26, museum visitors can stroll through galleries of garments ranging from an 1860s ball gown to bespoke “Texas” suits to a bonnet made of pearl tipped corsage pins. 

The exhibit is beautiful and inspirational – constantly challenging visitors to rethink what they expect and know. In subtle ways, the exhibit’s curator Michelle Finamore, confronts our ideas about what American fashion means to each of us. Like America itself, the exhibit is multifaceted and rich in diversity. 

Stepping inside Fashioning America, visitors will notice that pieces are grouped thematically, rather than chronologically, in a slow progression from Grit to Glamour. The exhibit evolves from themes like denim, street wear, and ready-to-wear to pop art, bridal, and red carpet looks. Each group of garments tells the story of designers who challenged the fashion systems of their generation. 

Fashioning America exhibit

According to Finamore, Fashioning America is part of her mission to “re-look at American fashion with a more inclusive lens, rethink what the canon is, disrupt the narrative a bit, [and ask] who has been left out of the story.” Throughout the collection, visitors will see how people who are typically pushed to the margins of society have contributed to American fashion. Finmore focuses on amplifying the work of women, immigrants, and designers of color, showing how they have changed the industry. 

Fashioning America arrived at an interesting time in American culture. As social justice movements gain traction across the country, the exhibit has an opportunity to provide a platform for and stretch the boundaries of inclusive design. Fashioning America acknowledges the grave human cost of the fashion industry, noting that “the beautiful clothing in this gallery and the foundations of modern US wealth are rooted in tragic human enslavement and the 19th-century American cotton economy.” Along with many of the designers featured in the exhibit, Passion Lilie is committed to challenging the global fashion industry by rejecting unsuitable working environments and working conditions as the norm. To us, social justice means advocating for the hidden labor force who are bearing the heavy weight of the global fashion industry.

Each designer featured in Fashioning America has challenged the fashion industry in some way, leading to growth and inclusivity. Passion Lilie is in excellent company among artists questioning sustainability, representation, and social commentary. While many pieces of the exhibit resonated with the Passion Lilie team, Diane von Furstenburg’s wrap dress hit especially close to home. The wrap dress is one of Passion Lilie’s signature silhouettes, and the original prototype was introduced by Diane Von Furstenburg in 1971. The daughter of a Nazi death camp survivor, her mission was to empower women through fashion and “designed dresses that represented freedom, the burgeoning feminist movement, and independence.” 

Like DVF, Passion Lilie dresses are made to empower the wearer through designs that are stylish, comfortable, and functional. Our wrap dresses are hand-made and tailored to flatter all bodies. They’re designed to inspire confidence in all stages of life, and they’re versatile for wearing through pregnancy, nursing, and the myriad changes our bodies experience. Passion Lilie wrap dresses are made for work and play, enabling women to feel good about themselves no matter what they’re doing.

DVF wrap dress featured in Fashioning America

Throughout Fashioning America, featured designers challenge the notion of who gets to tell stories on American runways and in stores. Kerby Jean-Raymond is a Black designer who confronts this issue through his work. The exhibit features Jean-Raymond’s The Typewriter, a fascinating garment created for Pyer Moss’ “Wat U Iz” collection. The collection spotlights Black inventors including Christopher Latham Sholes, who co-invented the typewriter. Jean-Raymond’s collection redefines culture and storytelling through fashion, providing a platform to celebrate Black creators.

Typewriter-inspired dress

In the center of Fashioning America stands a Seer Bonnet created by Angela Ellsworth. The sculpture is one of an ongoing series of pioneer bonnets made of thousands of steel, pearl-tipped corsage pins. The bonnets are a nod to her Morman heritage and a representation of a community of women whose lives were spent in domestic cruelty and submission. These bonnets, with their iridescent exteriors and piercing insides, give a voice to women who weren’t permitted to use theirs, and challenge the notion that their stories aren’t worthy to be told.  

Seer Bonnet made with pins

Passion Lilie is proud to be recognized among the storytellers, the narrative-challengers, and the prolific designers represented in Fashioning America. The exhibit spotlights Passion Lilie for our global perspective and the way we challenge the fashion industry. 

Passion Lilie clothing proves that it’s possible for beautiful clothes to be sustainable and affordable. Our supply chain is clean, our artisans are paid fairly and work in safe environments, and our production practices – from farm to store – are completely transparent. In 2023, American fashion is dominated by cheap clothing made in questionable environments. Passion Lilie challenges consumers to question everything when they shop for clothes. We don’t have to accept fast fashion as the norm, and Passion Lilie provides the ethical, eco-friendly alternative. 

We hope that our activism will move the needle in American fashion, pushing the industry to achieve incremental changes in sustainability and social responsibility. In the meantime, we’ll keep doing what we do best – making beautiful clothes you can feel good about. 

In a country that seems more divided by the day, fashion – this exhibit in particular – seeks to unite us through art and design. Fashioning America shows us the best of the fashion industry. By the end, visitors can leave feeling encouraged about an industry that’s being pushed toward inclusivity, sustainability, and social justice. If you’re in New Orleans or planning a visit, we hope you’ll visit and let us know what you think!

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