Photographer File, PR50

New York Fashion Week is a time when the fashion world comes together to showcase how they’re moving couture forward. However, as avant-garde as fashion may get, there is always inspiration to be found in the past. Photographer Bill Cunningham made that apparent in his “Façades” project, where model Editta Sherman (aka the “Duchess of Carnegie Hall”) posed in period garb in front of New York buildings built in the same era. In 1976, those photographs were exhibited as Fashions and Façades at the New-York Historical Society.

What makes these images so captivating? It could be the outlandish fashion. It could be the confidence radiating from the model. Or it could be the way the fashion choices reflect the architecture of their time. The hat Ms. Sherman is wearing in front of Grand Central Terminal emulates the clock, with circular roses punctuated by grand, pointed feathers. The frills of her boa could be mistaken for the ornate entrance to Delmonico’s. Cunningham’s work demonstrates how the aesthetic tastes of New Yorkers were represented almost everywhere.

The playful nature of the photographic essay, along with the stunning outfits and cityscapes, made them a natural selection for the columnar flatscreens in New-York Historical’s Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. Six of the images (including her in front of Delmonico’s, St. Paul’s Chapel and the Paris Theater) will rotate on the screens, the scale of which will make the juxtaposition between fashion and architecture hard to ignore. Visitors also can access the images on the New York and the Nation app.

What are your favorite trends of the past? Do certain buildings in New York speak to you? Let us know in the comments!

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