Aran jumper chosen as one of world’s most iconic fashion designs for new exhibition in New York

An Aran jumper from the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, at Turlough Park, Castlebar, is set to feature in a major new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opening this autumn to explore 111 of the most iconic fashion garments and accessories over the last century.

The history and impact of the Aran jumper will be explored in Items: Is Fashion Modern?, alongside a host of well-known fashion designs such an example of the biker jacket from the 1950s; a Wonderbra; a Birkin bag; a 1960s’ Breton shirt; a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans from the 1940s; and a collection of little black dresses.

The Aran jumper is going on loan from Ireland’s National Folklife Collection, which is housed at Turlough Park. It is currently being prepared by the conservation team at the National Museum of Ireland to be transported to MoMA ahead of the exhibition opening on October 1. According to MoMA, each of the 111 items explored in the exhibition was selected because it has had a “profound impact on the world over the last century”.

The Aran jumper in question is a cream, knitted piece from 1940 and made from a heavy, scoured wool. The patterns are different front and back. The centre panel on one side has a diamond stitch and the centre of the other side consists of a trellis openwork pattern with bobbles. It was last exhibited in 2008 at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life as part of the exhibition Romantic Stitches and Realistic Sketches.

Aran jumpers - or sweaters as they are known in America - have long been a highly recognisable symbol abroad of the romanticism of Irish rural life and Irish folk art. The jumpers became particularly popular from the 1950s onwards when they began to be exported in their thousands from Ireland to shops in America, Europe and Japan.

Welcoming the inclusion of the Aran sweater in Items: Is Fashion Modern?, Tony Candon, manager/keeper of the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life stated, “We are pleased to be able to contribute to this exciting new exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Aran sweaters are a powerful expression of the creativity of the Irish folk craft tradition and we are very happy that this is being recognised through inclusion in this important exhibition. Through their association with the Irish folk singers, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, they achieved huge international popularity and were worn by celebrities such as Steve McQueen and Grace Kelly. Aran sweaters continue to be popular today though now also made in materials other than just wool and are also machine-knit as well as hand-knit.”

Clodagh Doyle, curator at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, who has coordinated the loan of the Aran jumper, said, “It is magnificent that a piece of our folk heritage will represent our country and one of our traditional crafts in this exhibition of ground-breaking fashion essentials. This Aran jumper came into the National Museum of Ireland in 1942 from the Irish Homespun Society, which was founded by Muriel Gahan. Irish knitwear design has come along way since she set up The Country Shop in 1930 to sell home crafts in a flagship Dublin store.”

Announcing the exhibition, Paola Antonelli, senior curator, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA, said, “A powerful form of creative and personal expression that can be approached from multiple angles of study, fashion is unquestionably also a form of design, with its pitch struck in negotiations between form and function, means and goals, automated technologies and craftsmanship, standardisation and customisation, universality and self-expression.

“Like all physical and digital forms of design, it moves today on a spectrum ranging from post-industrial seriality (from prêt-à-porter to fast fashion ) to precious, handcrafted uniqueness (couture ). As design, it exists in the service of others. In most cases, it is designed by a human being to dress others - sometimes many, many others - so that they can function in the world, in different arenas.”

For some 30 items in the exhibition, MoMA has also invited designers, artists, scientists and engineers to respond to the designs with pioneering approaches, materials and techniques to create a ‘prototype’ item for the exhibition. The Aran jumper has been chosen among these 30 pieces and one of South Africa’s leading knitwear designers Laduma Ngxokolo has been commissioned to create the inspired art piece.

Items: Is Fashion Modern opens on October 1 and continues until January 28, 2018, at the Museum of Modern Art, West 53 Street, New York. Ireland’s National Folklife Collection and other early Aran knitwear can be viewed at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

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