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Deconstructing New York
Fashion Week 2008
A Conversation with
Dr. Valerie Steele
Chief Curator of The Museum at
The Fashion Institute of Technology

Written by Jamie Sharpe
Photographed by
Katherin Wermke


Talking with Dr. Valerie Steele, the Chief Curator of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology, provides a glimpse into the soul of high fashion. Dressed in Isabel Toledo and Yeohlee, Steele coolly explains, “My entire adult life, in one form or another, has been dedicated to fashion.” She insists that fashion is an integral part of history and that her commitment to this fluid art form has helped shape the modern view that fashion is a spectator sport. And with New York Fashion Week Spring 2008 fast approaching, all of those in-the-know are eagerly awaiting Steele’s observations.

Valerie Steele Seated in the FIT Museum
Photo Credit Katherin Wermke

She comments that New York Fashion Week is more of a marketing tool that creates buzz, while the shows in Paris focus more on the clothing. “This season continues to be wrapped up in lady-like trends,” and Steele anticipates the collections to be more streamlined. “The most dominant trend that I am seeing is the lengthening of the line. It is longer and leaner.” Steele is paying particular attention to sleeves and collars, as well as the shape and back of coats. “I think Lanvin and Proenza Schuler are executing this attention to detail particularly well.”

Steele explains that young designers often have trouble realizing their dreams, because it is difficult to begin a new line without tremendous financial backing. “Until the 1930’s, you could set up a fashion house with just a few clients. But, the war brought about the need for additional money for advertising costs.” Rising expenditure and general overhead has brought about the evolution of cult designers.

Valerie Steele

Expounding on the path of fashion subversions, Steele says the difficulty to break through glass ceiling is plaguing the industry. “There are so many talented people in fashion, and I wish there were fewer gatekeepers. I understand the need for press, editors, and buyers, but thhey typically presents more roadblocks rather than paving the way to success.” Her passion for the industry was readily apparent as she talked about different theories of luxury and the pleasures of fashion that reach far beyond bare necessities.

One of Steele’s favorite designers who has survived the many fluctuations in fashion is Isabel Toledo. “I have been a long time supporter of Isabel, and I am very excited that she is at Anne Klein and showing on the runway.” Loyal fans and particularly savvy buyers know Toledo well and wearing her clothing is the fashion equivalent of a secret handshake among the haute monde. Not everyone is familiar with Toledo and the decision to wear her designs demonstrates the ability to stay far ahead of clichéd fashion forecasts.

“I am just so intrigued by the different style tribes in fashion, and I can’t wait for this season’s shows. I am looking forward to the army of avant-garde Japanese designers as well as Peter Som, Phillip Lim, Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, and Yeohlee.” She mused that the most interesting shows do not necessarily have the most sellable clothing. “With respect to fashion, I am not always a fan of the word the word direction, but when it is done well, you see things in a different light. A new interpretation of the existing points us in the direction of the future, and that is where we need to be.”

Steele clearly has a love affair with all things beautiful but she is most intrigued by attention-grabbing designers who push the envelope. “Sometimes the most interesting shows are done by relative unknowns.” As Steele flipped through an overflowing file of invitations to the coveted New York shows, her eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief as she said, “You never know when destiny will strike.”




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