Scattered in a less immaculate state in close condition is the black custom Brooks Brothers “cool poncho” that Abraham Lincoln wore to his second inauguration—and on a recent outing to Ford’s Theater. One sleeve completely separated. Sewn into the quilted lining the prophecy of “One country, one destiny”.
The series isn’t always that heavy, nor does it veer into the arrogant and self-centered rah-rah. But one cannot tell the story of American clothing without confronting the fraught history of the country itself – a task “in America” that they are not ashamed of. At the same time, the show allows itself to enjoy the grandeur of fashion, its wonder, and its escape from reality.
The first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, summed up the power of fashion when she spoke to the press assembled at a preview yesterday morning. She said, “We reveal our identity and hide it with symbols, shapes, colors, scraps, and who makes them.” She was well aware of the limitations that fashion places on the role of first lady. “As the State of the Union approached, I knew the only thing that would be reported about me was what I was wearing,” she said. (At The Met, she wore a floral bouquet from Tom Ford.)
The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, May 7. But the VIPs got their first peek during the Met Gala on Monday night. The theme of the event, which raises the lion’s share of the Met Costume Institute’s budget each year, was “gilded glamor” – so there were shiny tiaras, garlands, and tiaras.
The show itself is on display in the old rooms of the Met’s American Wing, which serves as a stage for nearly 100 models of men’s and women’s fashion from the 19th to late 20th centuries. The museum enlisted nine film directors—including Julie Dash, Chloe Chow, Sofia Coppola, and Janicza Bravo—to create their own films. Miz that scene.
For his contribution, fashion designer and author Tom Ford distilled in 1973 Battle of Versailles A fashion show where emerging Americans were up against their contemporaries from French establishments. This disco death match is set in front of the palace panorama painted by John Vanderlin in 1819. But nothing meaningful happens under an inverted roof. Metallic mannequins in Halston, Anne Klein, and Oscar de la Renta are decked out in a frosted frame with Saint Laurent and Ungaro.
Regina King’s takeover of the Richmond Room upset the scenario of what one would expect in a salon in Virginia in the 19th century. Her palette of works focused on fanny Chris Pine, a seamstress born in 1860 to former enslaved people. King explains in presentation notes that she shows suitability for the customer, “her prestige indicates power and command, and she expects to be paid for her time.”
Elsewhere, Martin Scorsese envisioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawing room as the setting for an epic noir worn by Charles James.
This part of the show has everything the first part lacks: oomph, coherence, narrative and focus. The Fashion Dictionary opened last year and runs through September as well, and begs the question, What is an American designer? But she did not try to respond to it. The overall effect was like stepping into a Uniqlo store in a purgatory populated by white statues in glass cubes. Above the heads are buzzwords like “hope” and “belonging.” And why were we looking for beige Fear of God’s 2021 sweatpants behind plexiglass when we could sell them at Real Madrid?
For the sequel, The Met has harnessed its institutional greatness and star power, managing to make the most of what it does best: showing the connections between art, design, and fashion in a way that enriches our understanding of the three. An Anthology of Fashion offers a fascinating journey that is sometimes an escape from reality, but with a healthy dose of harsh reality around the corner.
In America: An Anthology of Fashion is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until September 5, 2022.
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