Miami’s Fashion History Brought to Life
Amy San Pedro
February 5, 2015
Although the reason has changed over the years, the world has had its eye on Miami for decades. In 2015, many believe Miami will be the next tech or start-up hub, and though people still flock here with hopes of sighting a celebrity, or to sunbathe on our beautiful beaches, they now also come to explore the art and culture in Wynwood, the Design District and Little Havana.
It wasn’t that long ago however, that the world’s eye was on Miami for a slightly different reason. It’s the reason there are still signs that read “Fashion District” marking the perimeter of Wynwood. At one time the world looked to Miami to see what it would do next in terms of fashion, not technology. Winter styles in Miami set the summer styles for the whole country, and because it was known as America’s Riviera, there was a sense of liberty to play with the rules. People expected things to be different in Miami and they were. Fashion was at once self-indulgent, exotic and sophisticated. It was “Made in Miami.”
In 2012, Keni Valenti chose to relocate his entire collection of over 20,000 pieces of vintage couture from New York to Miami, and it was not on a whim. Mr. Valenti, a designer and collector, with 40 yearsexperience in the world of fashion, was well aware of the importance of the apparel and fashion industries to Miami’s history. As his collection grew, so did his dream to preserve not only the articles of clothing, but also the stories behind them, the history of fashion. He knew that there was no better place than Miami to open the Museum of Fashion; in many ways Miami and western fashion came of age at the same time, leaving their histories inextricably linked.
Few people know that by 1962, the fashion apparel industry had become Dade County’s largest single industrial employer, with over 60% of all Florida manufacturing of apparel and related items taking place in Metropolitan Miami. It is no wonder however, that this history is little known. Even with its already proven growth of more than 20 years, the industry itself had to prove its own value. In 1966,the Florida Fashion Council prepared a document that was presented before the City Commission in hopes of getting the city to recognize the importance of the apparel industry to Miami’s future growth. By 1979, it was clear that the Fashion Council had been correct in its assumptions; the fashion and apparel industries continued to expand and called for an official redevelopment plan of the area known as the Garment Center/Fashion District.
Fast-forward almost 40 years and you will find a much-changed landscape. The neighborhood is still called Wynwood, but the remaining “Fashion District” signs scattered around the perimeter have little meaning for many. Not for Mr. Valenti. Tucked in the middle of the block on NW 2nd Avenue, between 27th and 28th, Keni Valenti brings to life this forgotten time in Miami’s history. The Museum of Fashion mounts a new exhibit every two months and each exhibit is as different from the last, as one could imagine. But they all have one thing in common. Each exhibit showcases the history of humanity as it was captured through the lens of fashion. The designs, designers, colors and fabrics reveal the historical relevance of the art of fashion in today’s world.
The Museum of Fashion’s latest exhibit, “Made in Miami” is a special dream come true for Mr. Valenti. In the three years that he has been in Miami he has continued to dig and research and learn even more about the depths of the Miami fashion industry. He states, “What amazes me is that there were all sorts of things made here, from bathing suits and resort wear to the most extravagant evening gowns. As I continued to find items for this exhibit, one thing that especially shocked me was the craftsmanship and the quality. You can really see the influence of the workforce of Cuban immigrants who had just come to America, and brought with them their sense of style and expertise. They were incredible tailors.”
This time, the exhibit “Made in Miami” includeshistorical footage courtesy of Miami Dade College’s Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives, an official moving image repository and archives of the State of Florida. It is one of the largest institutions of its kind in the United States and is an essential resource for the Miami community. The historical footage, curated by archival assistant Amy San Pedro, combined with the vintage fashions, curated by Mr. Valenti, brings additional context to the telling of Miami’s story in the “Made in Miami” exhibit.
The footage shows the beginnings of the Made in Miami label; from a mock fashion show put on by the men of the Fashion Council in 1954, to Lady Godiva being paraded down Collins Avenue on a horse to announce Fashion Week. The fashion on display includes designs by Alix of Miami, Miss Jane of Miami, and Lily Pullitzer. Together, the exhibit takes you back to the height of Miami’s fashion industry and sheds light on the real story of Miami’s history, one that is often hidden or forgotten.