Kirsty Mitchell, The Storyteller, from “The Wonderland” series. Photograph © Kirsty Mitchell.
“Once upon a time the fairy tales begin. But then they end and often you don’t know really what has happened, what was meant to happen, you only know what you’ve been told, what the words suggest,” wrote Joyce Carol Oates. Perhaps it is for this reason, because they are both malleable and imposing, that these old stories have woven themselves thoroughly into our cultures. Again and again, they are revisited and reinterpreted and rewritten to reflect—or rebuke—the present.
Usually we puzzle over their endings; they seem arbitrary and sudden, not at all circumstances conducive to the stability of a Happily Ever After. That end is often where our fantasies begin. In revivals and epilogues—written by great writers like Roald Dahl, Stephen Sondheim and Margaret Atwood—the characters live on to confront new challenges.
Clothing illustrating “Little Red Riding Hood”. From left to right: 18th century cloak, 19th century nightgown, 1970s cloak by Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, cloak by Altuzarra, dress by Dolce&Gabbana, ensemble by Comme des Garçons. CHANEL No. 5 video courtesy of CHANEL. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.
Cinderella’s glass slipper, the Mirror on the Wall, Red Riding Hood’s cape: fashion often provides a plot point in fairy tales. Great designers, too, have reinterpreted these tales. The newest exhibit at the Museum at FIT/Fashion Institute of Technology, Fairy Tale Fashion, opening January 15, explores how designers have visited these classic stories in clothes. A peek inside this storybook collection of couture and historical pieces is at the link.