Alum Curates CFDA’s First Metaverse Fashion Show

Lisby, left, and CFDA CEO Steven Kolb, right, with featured exhibition looks from Anna Sui, Zac Posen, Kamali, Off-White, and Willi Smith.

Starting December 19, enter the online game The Sandbox and you can see an exhibition of digital fashion, curated by an FIT alum and featuring several notable alumni designers.

Fashioning the Shades of American Design is the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)’s debut metaverse exhibition, curated by Darnell-Jamal Lisby, assistant curator of fashion at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Lisby earned three degrees at FIT: Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice MA ’18, Art History and Museum Professions ’16, and Fashion Merchandising Management ’14.

Digital representation of a gown by Stephen Burrows, in blue, pink, and black.
This style by Stephen Burrows ’66 is a metaverse rendering of a look featured at the legendary 1973 Battle of Versailles show, in which famed French couturiers squared off against Americans, and lost. Lisby wanted to pay tribute to publicist Eleanor Lambert, who organized the competition, and was a key figure in the CFDA.

The Sandbox is a two-dimensional “sandbox game,” meaning the goal is not to win; instead, like the way children play in an actual sandbox, players build environments (which can be bought and sold with cryptocurrency). Lisby created the narrative and chose garments for this metaverse exhibition, and Sandbox technicians digitally rendered the fashions and simulations of museum galleries. The show is divided into five themes, Lisby explains, “to create a seamless story while paying respect to each designer’s contribution to American fashion.”

A 1973 look from designer Stephen Burrows ’66 is featured in the “Illuminating a Fantasy” section, which showcases garments that inspire the imagination. “Burrows was dressing women for a nightclub, and I wanted to invite the viewer to see that vision,” Lisby says. Among others, Mary McFadden and Oscar de la Renta are also included. 

Metaverse-friendly digital versions of garments by Norma Kamali ’65 and Ralph Rucci ’80 feature in the section, “Illuminating the Avant-Garde,” which highlights the sophisticated techniques the designers use. These designers “push the imagination of American design and refute the fallacy that Americans don’t have artistry in their work,” Lisby says. 

A digital rendering of an avatar wearing a red jumpsuit.
Lisby included this digital rendition of a Norma Kamali jumpsuit because of the ruching technique Kamali used. “It’s inspired by Japanese and East Asian techniques, but it’s not an appropriation; she just used them for inspiration,” Lisby says.

“Illuminating Romance” showcases the sensuality and sexuality in American fashion, and features Halston, Vera Wang, “and Calvin Klein [’63], of course,” Lisby says. “Illuminating Understanding” includes designers “who use their platforms to advance social and cultural histories, as well as contemporary movements,” like Christian Siriano, a trailblazer for curvy women’s designs. The final section, “Illuminating the Soul,” features designers who employ Americana references—including Tracy Reese and alumnus Michael Kors.

CaSandra Diggs, president of the CFDA, asked Lisby to curate the exhibition to commemorate the CFDA’s 60th anniversary. He says organizing the show wasn’t so different from assembling real, in-person shows. He approached The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and individual fashion houses for “loans”—though no actual garments had to travel, the organizations had to give permission for The Sandbox to render the outfits digitally.

Metaverse exhibitions are the future, Lisby says. “At the Cleveland Museum, where I work, you can use an app, ArtLens, to curate your own experience. Say you like contemporary art and Egyptian art, you can drag those artworks into your app, and go on your own personalized tour.” Virtual shows have an advantage, he says. Museums may be cloistered, elitist spaces, but with an online show, “you can reach a mass audience.” 

The exhibition runs through January 19. Enter The Sandbox here.

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