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Peek into the eclectic wardrobe of one of the world’s most popular singer-songwriters at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)’s latest exhibit, Taylor Swift: Storyteller, opening Saturday at Columbus Circle.
The retrospective showcases decades of Swift’s costumes, props, jewelry and other visual elements from the 12-time Grammy Award-winning musician’s prolific career, including the highly recognizable ballerina and cheerleader ensembles from 2014’s Shake it Off , the gem-adorned one-piece from 2022’s Bejeweled and the striking Nicole + Felicia red wedding dress from 2021’s I Bet You Think About Me — all selected by MAD’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Craft, and Design Alexandra Schwartz.
Swift’s team reached out to Alexandra after seeing the work done by fellow curator Elissa Auther with artist Machine Dazzle on his Queer Maximalism exhibit, but she admits that she wasn’t intimately familiar with Swift’s catalog prior to working on Storyteller. “I knew her big hits, but I didn’t know her work all that well,” Alexandra told W42ST. “I have learned a lot in this process — it’s been fascinating getting to see how she’s developed as an artist and in addition to her songwriting, learn that she’s such a brilliant business person who has navigated combining that songwriting and artistry with being this incredibly successful performer.”
After working on 2022’s Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art at MAD, the curator had a robust working framework with which to tackle Swift’s large catalog of designs. “In Garmenting, we were coming at it from the perspective of artists rather than designers,” said Alexandra. “I teach part-time at the Fashion Institute of Technology and I got to know fashion history and theory and learned about curating fashion through that exhibit’s experience.” She added, “I’m fascinated by how clothes are part of our culture — not just in terms of the choices that we make about what we wear, but what they mean on a broader societal level and what they say about contemporary culture.”
Swift’s reputation for integrating visual storytelling into her music videos, red carpet appearances and concerts was an inspiration and Alexandra found plenty of symbolic messaging in the songwriter’s clothing choices. ”She creates an entire world through her work,” said Alexandra. “Her videos are these very complete thought-out worlds she’s created and her performances are as well — her garments and her costumes are a huge part of that. She’s very, very intentional about what she wears in performance, how those garments help to tell a story.”
For Swift, “the element of fantasy is really important and enticing and fun — but what’s been interesting in working on this show is that she really does see all of her different creative endeavors: the videos, the design, the costumes, as a part of her songwriting and her storytelling craft as a songwriter,” said Alexandra.
Swift also loves to leave hidden messages for her notoriously eagle-eyed fanbase.”She’s famous for her Easter eggs,” said Alexandra, “and it is very interesting how she’ll refer back to other times in her career and her storytelling through her songs.” She added, “One thing that I find interesting about her, and she’s talked about this herself, is that she is very aware that as a performer, and especially as a female performer she has to always change her image to capture people’s attentions, keep them interested and keep them thinking about her music in a different way. I think a lot of her costumes and her videos show that sort of self-awareness.”
Swift’s tendency to keep fans guessing extends to her choices in designer, added Alexandra. “There are quite a few costumes by Jessica Jones, who works with many different performers,” she said, “but what she wears in performance varies. Some costumes are by couture fashion designers, like the Versace and Marchesa, but then she’ll wear faux fur jacket by Free People mixed with Louis Vuitton boots — it’s interesting to see how she combines things.”
After studying the singer’s catalog and costumes, Alexandra gained a newfound appreciation for Swift’s creative process and impact on global audiences. “Seeing the craftmanship of the costumes is incredible,” she said, “It’s a treat to see all the embroidering and decoration and beading on these pieces up close.”
As Taylor Swift: Storyteller readies for opening, Alexandra can’t wait to welcome passionate Swifties to the exhibit. “It’s going to be fascinating to see,” she replied. “It’s been great already to see the buzz about it and hear about people who are planning to come to New York to see the exhibit. I’ve just gotten to know the Swiftie community in the last couple of months and it’s intense!” she laughed. “It’s very exciting that so many fans are going to be here and I really hope they enjoy it!”