The Met Gala exhibition delves into period-by-period American fashion
The Metropolitan Museum of Art featured famous American period rooms setting up mannequins wearing the period costumes.
The rooms are created by the directors by essentially making a film of an image without a camera: a painting, not a film, but by using their cinematic sensibility.
“Creating a one-frame film in a period room? A great opportunity and an intriguing challenge,” the director wrote in a statement alongside his creation, a mysterious blend of characters, emotions and fashion in the museum’s remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright Room.
Eight other directors, including Regina King and Chloe Zhao, are also putting their stamp on vintage rooms, for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” the Met’s Costume Institute’s spring exhibition that will launch with Monday’s Met Gala. and which will officially open on May 7. Guests at the gala, which raises millions for the self-funded institute and has become a major fashion and pop culture spectacle, will be among the first to see the screens.
Among the first also: is Jill Biden. The first lady toured the exhibit for a preview on Monday morning and explained how she learned in her current job that language isn’t the only means of communication – fashion is too. “We reveal and hide who we are with symbols and shapes, colors and cuts, and who creates them,” Biden said.
The first lady explained how the history of American design is full of unsung heroes, some of whom are now celebrated by the new exhibition, especially women. She also recalled how she sent a message of solidarity with Ukraine by wearing a sunflower appliqué on the blue sleeve of her outfit during the State of the Union address. “Sitting next to the Ukrainian ambassador, I knew I was sending a message without saying a word,” she said.
The exhibit is the second part of a larger show on American fashion to mark the Costume Institute’s 75th anniversary. Curated as usual by star curator Andrew Bolton, the new episode is both a sequel to and a precursor to “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which opened last September and focuses more on designers. contemporaries and establishes what Bolton calls a vocabulary of fashion. The shows will run concurrently and close in September.
While the new show “Anthology” is meant to provide crucial historical context, it also seeks to find untold stories and overlooked characters in early American fashion, especially female designers, and especially those of color. Many of their stories, Bolton said when announcing the show, “have been forgotten, overlooked or relegated to a footnote in the annals of fashion history.”
The nine directors were asked to animate the narration with their varied aesthetics. In addition to Scorsese, they include two of Monday night’s Met Gala hosts – actor-director King and designer-director Tom Ford. Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash, Autumn de Wilde and last year’s Oscar winner Zhao also contribute.
For King, the Richmond Room, depicting the domestic life of wealthy Virginians in the early 19th century, served to showcase black designer Fannie Criss Payne, born in the late 1860s to once-enslaved parents and becoming one of the best local seamstresses. She was known to have sewn a name tape into her clothing to “sign” her work – part of an emerging sense of clothing making as a creative endeavor.
King said she sought “to portray the power and strength that Fannie Criss Payne exudes through her awe-inspiring story and exquisite clothing,” placing her in a prosperous work situation – and proudly wearing her design – suiting a client. and employing another black woman as a seamstress.
Filmmaker Blank looks at Maria Hollander, the founder of a mid-19th century clothing company in Massachusetts who used her commercial success to advocate for abolition and women’s rights. In the museum’s Shaker Retiring Room, director Zhao connects with the minimalist aesthetic of 1930s sportswear designer Claire McCardell.
De Wilde uses her set in the Baltimore dining room to examine the influence of European fashion on American women – including some disapproving American attitudes about those low-cut dresses from Paris. Dash focuses on black seamstress Ann Lowe, who designed future first lady Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, but who received little recognition for it. “The designer was shrouded in secrecy,” Dash wrote. “Invisibility was the cloak she wore, and yet it persisted.”
In the wing’s neo-Gothic library, Bravo examines the works of Elizabeth Hawes, a mid-20th-century fashion designer and writer. And Coppola, given the McKim, Mead & White Stair Hall and another room, writes that she didn’t know what to do at first: “How do you stage a scene without actors or a story?” She eventually teamed up with sculptor Rachel Feinstein to create distinctive faces for her “characters”.
Each filmmaker dipped into his bag of tricks. For Scorsese, the clothes he received were designed by brilliant fashion designer Charles James – the subject of his costume show (and the Met Gala) in 2014. Scorsese knew he had to create a story “that could be felt along the entire length of this piece.” He looked to Technicolor films of the 1940s and used John Stah’s “Leave Her to Heaven”, which he calls “true black Technicolor”. As for what happens before and after the scene we see – which includes a woman crying near a portrait of a man and a Martini drink nearby – “my hope is that people will walk away with multiple possibilities unfolding in their minds.”
The exhibition in the Versailles room of the museum, so famous for its panoramic circular view of Versailles painted by John Vanderlyn between 1818 and 1819, is sure to be talked about.
Ford transforms the room into a performance of the “Battle of Versailles” – not a military conflict but the name given to a major American fashion night in 1973 when five American sportswear designers (including Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein ) “competed” against five French fashion designers at a show in Versailles and showed the world what American fashion was made of.
In his painting, Ford decided to make it a real battle with warring models, many of whom were dressed in ensembles from this landmark show. “Weapons have changed,” writes Ford. “Instead of fans and feather boas, there are fencing foils and front kicks.”
“In America: An Anthology of Fashion” opens to the public on May 7. Part one, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” remains open at the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Both close in September.