A VISUAL FEAST OF FASHION HISTORY
The Met Gala is undoubtedly one of the most — if not the most — glamorous nights in fashion. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyoncé and Charlize Theron ascend the never-ending stairs that lead up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a theatrical parade of cascading trains, plumed headpieces and dramatic capes. But despite the obvious allure of the Hollywood set, there’s another important element to the evening: the exhibits behind the celebration.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s annual exhibitions are filled with inventive, fantastical and intricate pieces to not only pay homage to top designers throughout history like Paul Poiret, Alexander McQueen or Charles James, but also to critique fashion in a greater cultural context, how it impacts societal ideas like class, identity and beauty. “We hope that even the most casual visitor [to the exhibitions] has a strong aesthetic experience and leaves with a sense that fashion can be seen as laden with ideas and unexpected narratives,” says Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute.
Koda’s work can be seen in this month’s book, Vogue and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People. The tome highlights the clothing of the 21st century exhibitions, along with inspired Vogue spreads and in-depth commentary from the magazine’s resident fashion historian, Hamish Bowles. For those without a ticket to the gala each year, it also provides an insider look at the night’s exclusive dinner, where everything from hot air balloons to giant rose-covered lips transform the museum into a surreal party setting befitting fashion royalty.
One of the biggest takeaways from the exhibits is the growing intersection of fashion and art. The two worlds have been influencing each other throughout history (most recently, Karl Lagerfeld looked to Pop Art for Chanel’s fall runway, while Valentino sought inspiration from artist Giosetta Fioroni). Next year’s exhibit will also pull heavily from the art scene with the theme, Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film and Fashion — a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the museum’s Department of Asian Art. “The blurring of the hierarchies of the arts is to me a good thing,” says Koda. “The challenge is that as not all photographs are art, and most are not; not all clothing is art. By moving to new ways of thinking about dress, a critical perspective is required, so the role of fashion critics and curators becomes more important than ever.”
In honor of the release of the new book, we’re looking to the Costume Institute for styling inspiration, as our editors reflect on their favorite annual exhibits.
Chief Merchant, Rati Sahi Levesque: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was an excellent tribute to the late designer. I love how he saw women: strong, not naive, and with a certain hardness that may intimidate some people. When looking at his work in the exhibit you could see all of the emotion that he put into each piece.”