This week we had the pleasure of interviewing architect Kimberly Ackert, the exhibition designer for Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s.
Kimberly Ackert was born and raised in Southern California and has a Professional Degree in Architecture from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She has worked in France, Switzerland and Australia and won the Mercedes T. Bass Rome Prize for Architecture. Her work has been internationally published and is known for its sensitivity to natural environments and use of naturally lit spaces. She has taught Architecture at Harvard, Cornell and Yale and is currently on faculty in both the Graduate School of Architecture and the Lighting Program at Parsons, the New School University. She lives in New York and heads her own design firm Ackert Architecture.
KA: I had done several installation pieces over the years but never connected to fashion. I was working on an off-campus interiors project with Patricia Mears, the Deputy Director of the Museum, who invited me to see her previous show Ivy [Style], which I liked very much. After that, I was invited to submit a proposal for the 1930s show.
– Can you speak a bit about how you conceptualized the space and how you chose to reflect the themes of the show—innovation, modernity, classicism, austerity, and elegance—through design?
KA: The concept for the show was directly inspired by the clothing and the desire to create a tasteful but contemporary environment to reinforce the timeless quality of the styles. When I first began working with FIT, I saw a few of the key pieces selected for the exhibition and was particularly impressed by the evening gowns and their simplicity of line, impeccable craftsmanship, and use of flowing translucent and rich fabrics. I especially admired how the backs of the ensembles were equally if not more moving than the fronts. Keeping this in mind, I worked to create a show where the pieces could be viewed from a variety of locations and angles across the gallery to expose different profiles. I also thought to exaggerate the long line of the gowns by reflecting them into a shiny water like surface. This resulted in a composition of floating, glossy and rectangularly shaped platforms divided by floor to ceiling translucent veils or curtains. The combination of reflective and translucent elements enables long sight lines and close ups of both the backs and fronts of almost every ensemble in the show. As the scheme developed further, the space began to feel like a secret garden party on a summer evening.
– There is one word at the forefront of this exhibition—it’s something you sense immediately in the gallery—elegance. What does elegance mean to you?
KA: Elegance is a quality and a specific kind of energy that operates on us when basic design elements work powerfully with each other. Upon entering the space, I hoped people would feel that kind of mysterious energy and perhaps for a few minutes, be transformed by a calm, serene and refined environment.
– Are there any connections to 1930s architecture that you employed in the exhibition design?
KA: One of my favorite buildings of all time is the forward thinking Barcelona pavilion built in 1929 by the German Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In this project one finds a similar use of free flowing open spaces, reflecting pools of water, and translucent partitions.
– Do you have a favorite ensemble from the exhibition?
KA: Yes in fact two — Augustabernard’s double helix dress for its amazing geometry and the sleek Nirvana flight suit.
– And finally, please give us 3 words which describe this exhibition for you.
KA: I was going for these words: sophisticated, timeless, and a little dreamy.
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes interviews, and be sure to tweet us with #1930sFashion.