In the intricate tapestry of the fashion world, Valerie Steele, the esteemed Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT), is an influential weaver of narratives. Renowned for curating over 20 exhibitions, including the mesmerizing Daphne Guinness collection and the evocative Gothic: Dark Glamour, Steele’s impact on the cultural discourse of fashion is undeniable.
Source4Style’s Suniti Rao recently engaged in a captivating conversation with Valerie Steele, delving into her journey from studying Humanities at Yale to becoming a pivotal figure in fashion history. This insightful dialogue traverses Steele’s evolution from a skeptic of fashion’s academic merit to a passionate advocate for its intellectual study, underscoring how fashion seamlessly intertwines with culture.
Steele’s ascent to the role of Director and Chief Curator at The Museum at FIT, despite initial skepticism from her professors, unfolds as a testament to her perseverance. Her journey involves a fusion of part-time professorship, book authorship, and the inception of Fashion Theory magazine in 1996. This rich background culminated in her current position, a testament to Steele’s commitment to elevating fashion to the realm of intellectual discourse.
When discussing her approach to researching exhibition themes, Steele reveals a nuanced process that blends technicality with instinct. The goal, she explains, is to craft a narrative with objects, requiring a deep understanding of the story she aims to convey. Steele’s exploration of themes like Gothic: Dark Glamour involves not only fashion but a multidisciplinary journey, from literature and film to subcultural styles, creating exhibitions that transcend mere clothing.
As Steele contemplates the macro trends shaping the current decade, she identifies technology, globalization, and the social media revolution as transformative forces. She predicts a forthcoming integration of technology into the fashion industry, envisioning a paradigm shift in operational processes. The influence of social media in capturing global styles emerges as a significant factor, distilling diverse trends into imagery that captivates audiences worldwide.
In exploring the democratization of fashion, Steele asserts that the enjoyment of fashion is rooted in interest rather than wealth. She highlights the positive impact of ready-to-wear and fast-fashion retailers in making fashion accessible. However, Steele doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the downside— the prevalence of disposable fashion in the industry.
Aligning with the ethos of sustainability, Steele echoes Daphne Guinness’s call for quality over quantity. In a world burdened with excess, Steele advocates for mindful consumption, underscoring the value of “better things, not more.”
The interview sheds light on Daphne Guinness as a fashion icon, celebrated for her fearless individuality. Steele sees Guinness as an inspiration, especially in an era increasingly valuing “real people” as style icons over conventional figures.
With a globetrotting perspective, Steele reflects on diverse attitudes towards fashion in different cultures. From the fashion-forward Japanese to the conservative approach in Milan and Florence, Steele offers insights into the multifaceted nature of global fashion.
Closing the conversation, Steele shares her unique approach to Fashion Weeks, emphasizing a focus on designers pushing boundaries rather than trend-spotting. Her philosophy of fashion as construction, not a reflection of one’s true self, challenges traditional perceptions, echoing the Italian notion of “bella figura.”
As the threads of this enlightening conversation weave through fashion’s past, present, and future, Valerie Steele emerges not only as a curator but as a visionary shaping the narrative of an industry at the cusp of evolution.