Tuesday, May 06, 2008

…..With a Capital ‘S’

Ever since word got out that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute would be mounting its "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" exhibition (May 7 – September 1, 2008), preceded by a Gala Benefit (hosted by Honorary Chair Giorgio Armani and Co-Chaired by Anna Wintour, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts), it seems the fashion world (always enamored with stars or anything ‘super’) could not get enough of the ‘S’ word. Certainly, it’s hard to squabble with the super duper star power of George and Julia who are arguably the two biggest superstars in the world. And say what you will about Giorgio Armani, the man has staying power and star power and through the years he has dressed some of the biggest stars in the world. He was a ‘super star’ designer long before the term was coined.

To be sure, there was no shortage of the ‘S’ word, during Monday morning’s press conference and press preview. First to address the assembled crowd was Anna Wintour who wasted no time singing the praises of Philippe de Montebello, the revered director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who is not only the longest serving director of the institution but the longest serving director of any major art museum in the world, and who recently announced his plans to retire at the end of 2008. Anna enthused, "even though the fashion world may not be his world", it nonetheless owes a "huge debt of gratitude" to Philippe, who is "alone among world class museum directors" in that he has had "the vision to acknowledge the role that style, self presentation, and design play in modern culture" and has "executed that vision in a way that has inspired millions to think of fashion as one of our most complex and rich decorative arts". She remarked that within the Costume Institute’s "greatest shows" (which she labeled as "modern and directional while at the same time offering the sweeping historical perspective that is a signature of what this great museum stands for"), and in Philippe’s tenure, he has "given us the freedom to explore the connections between what we wear and how we live".

She further noted that "fortunately for all of us, Philippe likes the mix of costumes included the museums’ exhibitions to be as diverse, provocative, and exciting, as the guest list for the dinner itself" and referred to him as a most "gracious, unflappable and hospitable of hosts". And I can’t help but add that ‘unforunately’, thanks to Anna’s contribution of exclusivitity to this annual event, most of us mere mortals will not get a chance to see that wonderful ‘mix’. Be that as it may, Anna was visibly emotional as her voice wavered and she seemed to choke back tears as she introduced Philippe during which time the ‘love fest’ continued.

For his part, Mr. de Montebello referred to Anna Wintour as a "superhero’ in terms of fashion and in terms of her contributions to the Costume Institute, and he praised Andrew Bolton, Curator, and Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, for their tireless and creative input. The legend gave fashion an intellectual boost by referring to it as a "full fledged member of the academic part of this institution" and did his part to elevate it to lofty heights by questioning, "Why must objects of art only be rectangular and hung, as opposed to being worn?" (This got quite a laugh from the audience).

He spoke of the connection between superheroes of ancient times (whose likenesses reside in museum’s permanent collection) and modern day superheroes (who are just ‘visiting’ until the end of August) and made the observation that Hercules was the inspiration behind Superman and the Diana, the Huntress, was the inspiration for Wonder Woman. And speaking of myths and superheroes, he spoke of the "myth of Anna Wintour who has co chaired this event for the past 10 years", and introduced "a true myth in his own time, Giorgio Armani, the host for the gala".

Giorgio proved to be gracious, funny, humble, and somewhat self deprecating, as he revealed, through the help of an interpreter (GA barely speaks barely one word of English), that he had forgotten the paper with his speech but said he’d "figure something out". He made the observation that fashion "helps people to live" and he praised New York, calling the city a center of fashion, a place where fashion is not only something which is enjoyed by the rich, but by everyone.

He thanked Anna for the obviously large part she played in connecting him with "Superheroes, Fashion and Fantasy" though he admitted he was "surprised" to be named as Honorary Chairman, conceding that there was a rather large "contrast" between the tone of the exhibition and the "name Armani". But he also said that it was precisely this contrast that makes it "special and interesting". He laughingly (and perhaps knowingly) said "the curators must have worked hard to find something of his to fit in this exhibit but they succeeded". He also spoke of the trickle down theory inherent in fashion, with his admission that Thierry Mugler’s exaggerated shoulders inspired his own designs, and he thanked the cartoonists from the 30’s and 40’s who "conceived the caricatures", ending with the thought that "the homes from Flash Gordon we live in today". And as fate would have it, by the time he was finished his impromptu speech, he found the paper with his notes ("I’ll use it another time" he joked).

Last up was Andrew Bolton who thanked Anna Wintour, Philippe de Montebello, Harold Koda, and his colleagues, and with whom I had the opportunity to speak. When they first toyed with the idea of this exhibit 5 years ago, the premise was extreme sportswear, performance clothes that literally transform you to a superhero. It later morphed into an exhibition which addresses core issues of body, identity, and transformation, and the connection between fact and fiction (which is diminishing). The best way to describe the items featured is "extreme, phantasmagoric, hard edged, aggressive, overtly sexualized fashion" but perhaps most importantly, the exhibit celebrates the "remarkable creativity and imagination of the designers".
When I asked Andrew to describe the Armani pieces selected, he said that out of the approximately 60, (6 to 8 of which are movie costumes), there were three: a ‘Spider’ dress (in a Spider Man webbed pattern), a menswear piece which has a breast place, and a silver dress with the allusion of armor (in the armored body section). Since the exhibit is all about extreme fashion and fantasy, I was curious as to which pieces, if any, he would label as the most ‘wearable’. Andrew wasted no time in singling out the "Giorgio Armani and John Galliano spider dresses, inspired by the beautifully crafted femme fatale dresses from the 1920’s and 1930’s."

-Marilyn Kirschner

From the Red Carpet:

What a day May 5th proved to be!

As of the date above, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is running one of the most unique exhibits ever seen in a museum: titled "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy", it is dedicated to the intricate web that links Fashion and Super Heroes. It is a must-be-seen display of beautiful gowns and outfits, unique and spectacular backgrounds, all helping to see right away the connection between the two worlds.

"Superheroes are about issues of the body, identity and transformation, about acting your fantasies and transforming yourself into anyone or anything you want to be," said Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton. ?Those are all the things at the heart of fashion."

The highlight of the day was the gala taking place that very evening at the Museum: this red carpet may have never seen a gathering of so many celebrities. They were all there.

George Clooney with Julia Roberts and Giorgio Armani
Photo: Randy Brooke

It started with Giorgio Armani (Honorary Chair) flanked by Co-Chairs George Clooney and Julia Roberts (both wearing Armani, bien sur) and Vogue Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour, dressed in a beautiful Chanel silver evening gown.

Left: Anna Wintour with daughter
Photo: Randy Brooke

From then on, the outpouring of stars and celebrities went on and on: the fashion world was represented by Donna Karan, Diane Von Furtsenberg, Vera Wang, Donatella Versace, Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, Kimora Lee Simmons, Zac Posen, Stella Mc Cartney, Tommy Hilfiger, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs.... I may be missing a name or two here, the event had a monster turn out. Also spotted was Kelly Klein, as beautiful and as smiling as ever.

Tome Cruise & Katie Holmes
Photo: Randy Brooke

On the celebrities side, Katie Holmes, was her gorgeous self in an amazing coral red Armani dress with husband Tom Cruise (dressed in Armani as well), Beyonce Knowles (Armani), the actress Tilda Swinton in a beautiful Prada gown, Jennifer Lopez (in a pale green and flattering Alberta Ferreti gown) with husband Marc Anthony, Mischa Barton wearing Missoni, Kate Moss, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ellen Barkin, Eva Mendes (in a Calvin Klein gown), Dita von Teese (wearing Marchesa) Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld (as discreet as ever), Scarlett Johanssen with her engagement ring (but without her fiance) was accompanied by the Dolce and Gabbana (dynamic) duo and wearing one of their gowns, Eva Longoria, actress Kristen Davis (Sex and the City) was beautiful, charming and smiling in a Michael Kors gown, Christine Ricci (why does she insist on wearing odd looking and unflattering outfits?), Josh Jackson and Diane Kruger, Ivanka Trump (dressed by Gilles Mendel), her father Donald and his new wife were also present, Sarah Silverman, Claire Danes, Stephanie Seymour, Fergie, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen (in Versace) with boyfriend Tom Brady (New England Patriots quarterback)... Jon Bon Jovi (Armani), John Mayer (Armani), Emily Rossum, Blaine Trump, Hillary Duff, Emily Mortimer, Emily Rossum, Naomi Watts, the unavoidable David and Victoria Beckham, Claudia Schiffer, Charlotte Gainsbourg (ah! the French chic in itself is a super power), Janet Jackson and her boyfriend, music producer Jermaine Dupri, Liv Tyler (wearing Calvin Klein), Iman and David Bowie, Natascha Richardson, Michelle Trachtenberg (in a beautiful vintage Yves Saint Laurent dress), Linda Carter with her Wonder Woman cuffs, Venus Williams, model Karolina Kurkova, Kate Bosworth, country music singer Taylor Swift, and the list would not be complete without mentioning the presence of the sexiest woman of them all: actress and former super model Lauren Hutton.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also among the guests.

All together, 750 or so guests attended the event. Even for the press only stationed at the entrance and not invited inside, the affair was a party in itself: so many beautifully dressed people, many of them gracious and going along with the obligatory smiles and poses, so that the photographers could take a shot at them, many stopping for short interviews here and there... it was "a zoo" as the saying goes, but a beautiful one.

Everyone seemed to have super powers tonight: Anna Wintour stated that she was Storm, the X Men heroes, "I control the weather" she said. As for Julia Roberts, she is quoted as having said that "it take super powers to stay up that late" (but it was only 7 pm at the time....???). Almost all of the red carpet attendees had super powered outfits that were an homage to what fashion can give its wearers: super power glamour!!

Along with the fabulous exhibit at the Museum, the red carpet event was a (super) powered affair attended by (super) celebrities, (super) stylists and (super) fashion designers...not to mention (super) photographers, (super) press people and journalists, (super) security people who kept the whole affair very well organized and running smoothly.

With Giorgio Armani as (a super) benefactor, (super) Anna Wintour and Vogue, the Metropolitan Museum and the fashion world were honored and celebrated with many people dressed in fantastic outfits that could only be challenged by super heroes powers and outfits! And these could be found right inside, just feet away from the hoopla taking place.

Pow!!!! Bam!!!! Zowie!!!!!!! What a night! And what a beautiful exhibit! Kudos to all involved in the making of the exhibit and the gala, everything was perfect and enchanting to the max... a fairy tale extravanganza fitting for the occasion at hand.

- Muriel Geny-Triffaut