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Alessandro Mendini, is one of the most eclectic personalities in Italian twentieth-century design. He has worked as an architect, a designer in the field of applied arts, an editor and scenographer, always combining his design work with a strong theoretical engagement. This article aims to highlight the importance of Mendini’s critical thinking on design, which he has continuously pursued in his texts and his many editorial endeavours. This contribution focuses specifically on Mendini’s interest in and approach to the language of fashion and its interdisciplinary nature. In 1981 and again in 1985, when he was editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, Mendini published Domus Moda, first as a special supplement and later as a column inside the magazine itself. His intention was to inscribe fashion into the broader discourse of design and design culture. This aim was shared, at the time, by other figures working in Milan, and was particularly embedded at the Domus Academy since its very foundation.
The exhibition Are Clothes Modern? organized by Bernard Rudofsky in 1944 at The Museum of Modern Art approached fashion as a phenomenon in contrast to the principles of industrial design and architecture. It can be considered the first theoretical attempt to define fashion design as a discipline. In 1946 the Metropolitan Museum of Art began the process of creating the Costume Institute, which will become an official department in 1959. From its first exhibitions in the Forties up to the curatorial work of Diana Vreeland, Special Consultant from 1972 to 1989, this institution has always been the privileged place to define fashion through exhibiting. The comparison between Rudofsky’s project and the Costume Institute’s activities become the starting point for reflecting on the nature of a fashion exhibition and its theoretical foundations in relation to the museum.