A few years ago, I moderated a Law Day event that was filled with high school students. I encouraged them to chat up the lawyers after the festivities. And I told them a sure-fire way to spot the attorneys: They’d be in a blue or gray suit.
But thinking back on it, I should have mentioned the eternal whiteness of their shirts. Blazingly white.
Well, for those of you who consider a white shirt a wardrobe staple, I urge you to visit the Phoenix Art Museum to see how one designer understood the white shirt for the blank canvas it is and transformed it into something remarkable.
I had the opportunity to attend a show preview, and I strongly recommend it to you. (After all, as I told fellow attendees, if I can’t sell a show about white shirts to lawyers, I should hang up my notepad!) It is visually compelling, and its depth of research offers a glimpse into more than 30 years of history, fashion and otherwise.
The works in the show were all lent by the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation in Italy:
“The White Shirt According to Me: Gianfranco Ferré includes a selection of 27 of Ferré’s most significant white shirts created over the course of his career (1982-2006). Sketches, technical designs, photographs and videos from the archives of the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation will offer visitors the chance to go beyond the confines of fashion and examine the methods, techniques and precision Ferré applied to each of his designs.
The Phoenix Art Museum is the exclusive North American venue for this show (confirming, if we didn’t already know it, that this museum’s Fashion Department, led by Dennita Sewell, is one of the finest in the country).
As you stroll the show, the craftsmanship reminds you that Ferré’s first vocation was as an architect. They are arresting pieces of clothing, and artworks as well.
The showstopper, of course, are the 27 shirts held aloft and lit beautifully. Arranged chronologically, they allow a viewer to stroll through the decades with the designer. Though his methods of experimentation and available materials changed over time, amazingly any of the pieces could be donned today (by a beautiful person, of course!) and would turn heads. Most all the pieces fall in the category of “timeless.”
As you end your visit to the main show, be sure to:
- Enjoy at a slow pace the room displaying photos of modern models wearing Ferré’s historic pieces, and
- Head upstairs to the Fashion space, where you can see Ferré’s work beyond the white shirt. Think couture, Oscar red carpet, complex and striking gowns.
And worth noting: One of my favorite parts of the show was the use of large and small spaces.
For example, visitors enter by passing through a scrim of suspended material, suggesting the diaphanous raw materials that Ferré worked with. Before you enter the large and jaw-dropping space where the shirts are displayed, you’re funneled through a narrow walkway. If you happen to be behind other attendees, you’ll see, above their heads, a portion of the spotlighted shirts beckoning to you in the grand space beyond. Seeing a glimpse of those sirens with a collar, you feel a sense of urgency to draw closer. That is smart museum design.
A similar sensation is provided as you stroll the final hallway exiting the main show. On the black wall are ghostly images of some of Ferré’s most complex pieces. They hover, larger than life, demonstrating his architectural prowess and so much more. As you move toward the exit, the already-intimate space narrows, bringing you closer and closer to exemplars of the man’s vision. At the moment you exit the hallway and return to the brighter lights outside the show, you feel closest to the ghost behind the machine that was Ferré’s vision. Superb!
More photos are below (click to enlarge). I wish upon you a new and vibrant take on your closet of white shirts!Follow @azatty