Warning! If you suffer from periodic bouts of self doubt and insecurity, and sometimes have self image issues, you might want to stay away from “The Model As Muse, Embodying Fashion”, exhibit, (www.metmuseum.org) which opens to the public on May 6th and runs through August 9th, 2009. Organized by Curator in Charge Harold Koda and guest co-curated by Kohle Yohannan, the exhibit seeks to explore the relationship between “high fashion and evolving ideas of beauty” from the 1950’s through the 90’s, focusing on “iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.”
While in the course of yesterday’s press preview (more on that later), Mr. Yohannan may have enthused about the way in which this exhibit illustrates the ‘new’ inclusive diversity (as illustrated by a broader range of ages, body types, sizes, ethnicities, etc.), believe me, as I studied the divinely clad mannequins (my personal favorite period was the 60’s: and that image of Verushka, clad in the iconic YSL safari shirt, shot by Rubinelli in 1968, is engraved upon my mind), videos, iconic photographs, and magazine covers depicting the world’s most amazing creatures, both past and present, it was hard not to see that regardless of how you define it…it was all about a non negotiable, impossible to achieve, ideal of beauty. Who said life is fair?
And speaking of magazine covers, while the great majority were from Vogue (LOL, what a surprise!), of course, there were some notables from Harper’s Bazaar and a few from W. As a former senior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, I not only recognized, but had actually worked on some of the famed pictorials (no…not the ones from the 50’s or 60’s!) and I was responsible for pulling some of the clothes that were featured. (FYI, according to Harold Koda, the reason most of the covers are from Vogue, is that Harpers Bazaar, as beautiful a magazine as it was, especially from an artistic point of view in the 50’s and 60’s, did not use the models on their – the Costume Institute’s – list. In addition about 30 of the covers, including a famed one shot by Avedon, came courtesy EBay!)
While I was among the many (the VERY many), who did not get a ticket to the attending gala last night, I did attend yesterday’s midday press preview, which while not the “Party of the Year”, (don’t you just hate that term anyway?) nonetheless felt very festive and celebratory, thanks in large part to the wonderfully conceived, highly spirited, mixed media tableaux which even included the appropriate music to correspond to each era. For example, for the 70’s, there was a blaring disco soundtrack, and for the Grunge 90’s, we were treated to George Michael’s famous anthem, “Freedom”. Talk about mood music.
At approximately 11 a.m., we were all summoned back downstairs from the second floor Tisch Galleries, for a (thankfully) short and to the point press conference. First up was Thomas Campbell, the new Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He spoke about this year’s exhibit which opens “upstairs with a series of snapshots from American Fashion and focuses on its inspirations (the models) over the recent decades from the 1950’s through the 1990’s. It is the models “who embody for us a particular era or aesthetic”, and who in his words, are “transmitters of cultural change”. He spoke of their roles in shaping society and design (“every era has its mirrors and muses”), and the way in which these elements inspired the Costume Institute’s Curator in Charge, Harold Koda, and guest curator, Kohle Yohannan. “The Tisch Galleries (on the second floor where the exhibit is housed) never looked like this”, he observed.
He went on to say, “I want to thank our sponsor, Marc Jacobs, a creative spirit who has had a tremendous impact on contemporary American Fashion. Thank you for your unwavering support. And many of you know that I’ve been Director for 4 months, and in this time I’ve come to understand the level of dedication, determination, and selfless generosity that Anna Wintour demonstrates towards this institution on an ongoing basis. Conde Nast has been a loyal supporter of the spring Costume Institute exhibition for many years and Anna Wintour has played an enormous role in that sponsorship as well as being an organizer of the benefit, that in one precious evening each year, funds the year round for the Costume Institute. This would not be possible without her. She is a consummate donor and friend. Thank you”.
Next up was Marc Jacobs, (he, along with Anna Wintour, and daughter Bee, who enjoyed a private tour of the exhibit with her mom, directly after the press conference), made a statement in tan knee length Macs. (It may have been damp and wet outside but I can assure you, nothing and nobody would dare rain on Anna’s parade!) Marc was informal, animated and spoke quickly. “Hi everybody. Good morning, I didn’t prepare anything to say. So I’m just going to have to wing it. I am just very moved, basically because I feel very flattered and thrilled and honored to be associated with anything that has to do with this beautiful museum, this wonderful institution that I grew up with as a New Yorker. And of course I’m very grateful to Anna because she invited me to participate. For me, this is a dream come true because I have attended this event since I was 25, working for Perry Ellis, and it was an incredible evening then, and ever since then its become even more incredible.”.
MJ also noted that he has learned so much from the exhibitons, he always makes use of the library, and he researches clothes, shoes and “all sorts of things”. “The museum has helped me to do my work certainly as much as the muses who have inspired my work. I’m full of gratitude.” Of course what Marc didn’t say, is that if things way back when, (when he was a lowly assistant), were as they are today, he probably wouldn’t have been able to attend the gala, because it’s not exactly ‘democratic’: there is no cocktail party and there is no longer, an after party. The Costume Institute Gala, thanks to Anna Wintour, has become increasingly exclusionary, restricted, and rarefied.
Harold Koda was up last and when he took the microphone, he wasted no time in singing the praises of his co curator, Kohle Kohannan. He stated that “this exhibit would not have occurred without Kohle, whose “knowledge of cultural and social history with regards to the model has made and animated the whole project”. “We are the one curatorial dept that relies on the fashion industry for support and it’s because of Anna’s unwavering support of the Costume Institute that has allowed us to be rather aggressive and ambitious in our projects. I don’t think we could begin to address some of the testy issues that we’ve been able to address.”
“Model as Muse occurred because Andy Bolton and I were looking through various publications and as were looking through publications of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, we realized that there were certain women who have come to define our notions of idealized beauty in every generation. At that time, we didn’t think there was enough material for a show, but we did think this was interesting phenomena. And then Kohle pulled out a manuscript relating to the fashion models of Conde Nast. With Kohle’s knowledge of fashion history and the history of models, together with the Museum’s incredible archive of iconic fashions from the post war period, we thought we did have a show. But, still, none of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of Marc Jacobs from the very beginning. The only criteria that he had was to “please make the exhibition lively”. We have attempted to do that by working with Academy Award winning art director and production designer, John Myhre, who has informed the exhibit with period authenticity without being heavy handed. It’s light and playful.”
Mr. Koda admitted that working with mannequins is always difficult. But as he put it, “We were privileged for the third time, to work with Julien D’Ys, who has done all the heads and hair of the exhibition. As you can see, he is deeply routed in fashion history but he takes it a step further”. And then he spoke about the “big surprise”. On Friday, “as we were walking through the exhibit, Anna said “Well, this is Grunge, but it doesn’t look Grungy enough”. Julien overheard this and so he created the marvelous murals that happened on Friday night and Saturday, It’s extraordinary and I do want to thank him. (Marvelous they are). “I also want to thank our Co-Chairs. Kate Moss, who is iconic, and who has been able to transcend the decades and become someone who is viewed as a fashion avatar on camera and also off camera; and that is the important contribution she has made to contemporary fashion”.
“And we happen to have another Honorary Co- chairman, someone we know to have legs just as beautiful as Kate Moss. And that’s Justin Timberlake and we’re really thrilled both of them have taken time from their really busy schedules at the behest of Anna, to participate in what we know will be a really remarkable evening tonight.” So ‘remarkable’ in fact, that few of us will actually get to see it.