You might not remember, but before graffiti covered walls and unfathomable rent, Wynwood was known for something else: high-end, locally manufactured garments.
"If you go to Northeast 29th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, right in front of Out of the Closet Thrift Store, you'll see a big sign that reads, Fashion District - this way," tells Keni Valenti, Miami's favorite fashion historian and founder of the Museum of Fashion in Wynwood.
Every other month, the Knight Foundation winner recreates history by displaying themed exhibitions of clothing, categorized by decade. In the past, his exhibitions have demonstrated the evolution of lingerie and it's beginnings, and a Bollywood-inspired exhibition of vintage designer gowns all made in India, titled "Made in India." (Duh!)
This month, he's preparing for an exhibition that hits closer to home called "Made in Miami," a show he's been planning since he first moved here three years ago.
"Miami stood for integrity;" Valenti said, "it was a booming fashion industry -- nobody really knows that," he says as he steamed a fine linen suit on a svelte, turquoise-colored mannequin. "That to me is a very historical aspect of our community."
The title of the show is a guideline of what you can expect: clothes designed and manufactured in Miami. Simple, right? For Valenti, culling pieces from vendors and eras that no longer exist has proved to be anything but.
First, Valenti researched the history of Miami's once prominent fashion industry. He discovered that, at one time, Wynwood had the potential to drop New York to its knees. Power stores like Mr. Dino, Moseley's, and Burdines garnered an international reputation of constructing the finest in silk satin column dresses and mink fur collars. Then, the hunt was on; he began inquiring about nearly everyone's closet-- even the recently deceased--who claimed to harbor vintage gems. Over a three-year span, he accumulated enough for this month's masterpiece.
"Believe it or not I had hundreds of pieces," Valenti confesses, "but I had to think about which pieces looked best and best represent our lovely Miami."
You'll find wool swimsuits from Alex of Miami, silk-quilted robes by Moseley's, performance outfits worn by Jean Cahn, one of the dancers from The Jackie Gleason Show worth thousands of dollars each. Even a Lilly Pulitzer beach cover-up with ball-fringe trim warms a spot on Valenti's roster.
"Made in Miami" begins in the 1940s and ends with relatively contemporary trends, like a five-year old floral chiffon dress from the Webster and a '90s Nikki Beach cocktail uniform. Valenti eschewed the '80s, "that was the downfall of Wynwood," and seemingly its fashion culture, too.
Still, it's nice to know that Miami at one point wasn't all bandage dresses and push up bras, but a once prolific fashion-mecca, recognized for its prestigious craftsmanship and innate style. #Memories.
You can see "Made in Miami" tomorrow, January 10, at the Museum of Fashion during Art Walk, from 5 to 10 p.m.
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