I have to admit that I immediately felt right at home upon descending the stairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which lead down to the Costume Institute (the occasion, a Monday morning press preview of the new exhibit, “blog.mode: addressing fashion”, underwritten by Manolo Blahnik). And no, it was not because my closet holds museum worthy Worths, Poirets, Adrians, Schiaparellis, Chanels, Comme des Garcons, Diors (which account for some of the 65 pieces on display).
But rather, since I feel as though I spend almost all my waking time hunched over the computer (blogging, researching, gathering information, shopping, etc), it was the rather familiar sight, greeting you as you enter the galleries, of not one, but 8 computers set up on a bar (with their home pages set on the museum’s brand new blog, www.blog.metmuseum.org/blogmode).
Undeniably, everybody’s “doing it” (by that I mean blogging). Though we at the Lookonline.com can lay claims to being one of the first fashion bloggers, if not THE first in 2002, (we formally launched in 1994), we were hardly the last. Blogging, which was initially greeted with a great deal of skepticism, and seen as an alternative, ‘underground’ movement, has gone positively mainstream. If you need proof that blogging has officially ‘arrived’, all you have to do is consider the number of fashion critics from highly regarded, decidedly un frivolous national newspapers, including Robin Givhan of The Washington Post, and Cathy Horyn of The New York Times, who routinely post chatty blogs to supplement their columns. (In fact, Ms. Horyn and Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, will take part in an educational program featuring a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition, on March 30, 2008 at 3 p.m.) Even Style.com has added a blog to enable their writers to post little snippets of information.
In the press kit given to attendees, there was a note from Manolo Blahnik, who made mention of the “wonderful opportunity for people to access The Costume Institute’s collection in a way that was previously impossible”. This is now possible thanks to the “new technologies” that are now available to all of us. He also stated that he is “looking forward to seeing how the public reacts to these objects that we in the fashion industry know so well.”
And so, with that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that a renowned, iconic cultural institution, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, would eventually follow suit and offer up a blog of their own. Better late than never I say. Of course, I couldn’t resist asking Curator-In-Charge of the Met’s Costume Institute, Harold Koda, when I spotted him at the press preview on Monday morning, “What took you so long?”
As he explains, “It was Andrew’s idea (Andrew Bolton is the Curator of the Costume Institute); he came up with the idea for the blog. What we wanted was a show that focused on some aspect of our collection. And he said, “Well you know, we always talked about how interesting it is to walk from there (pointing to the galleries that held the displays for the exhibits) to our offices and to hear these fascinating comments from the public”. Unfortunately, most of the commentary that we would get from people who visit our services would be along the lines of, “Why are they in the basement?”, or “Why are they behind glass?”
“But that’s very different from what you actually hear down here. Because basically, people are very animated about clothes. Even men who have been dragged down here by their wives have something to say. And so, you routinely hear these discussions.”
“Andrew’s idea was there there is this populist approach (to fashion) but there is also something that’s been evolving on the blogs for the last two years. There’s a much higher level of consideration about clothes on fashion blogs, and it’s really evolved in the past two years. It’s a different discourse.”
“So we thought, why don’t we open up our exhibition to that? And since we already hear from the members of the press, the critics, we thought it would be more interesting to hear from people, their thoughts about the actual work. At first we considered a ‘Master Works’ representation of all the great, iconic pieces in the collection but then we decided to focus on recent acquisitions, things that are newer to the collection, and things that are relatively unseen.”
“Some of them came to the collection only because of shows, so they have been seen (one notable example is the 1888 Charles Frederick Worth court gown, which belonged to George Washington’s great great grand niece, acquired last year, which Andrew found in the Santiago Museum in Chile).”
“We decided to do it in purely chronological fashion of our recent acquisitions, so that when we posted it, people would respond to the object, they would have an idea about the work or a comment about the inspiration.”
“We want personal responses, connections to the outfits. We want the whole spectrum, not just comments from members of the press. It would be fascinating if a dressmaker wrote, “I would love to do dresses like this, but most women don’t want their waist obliterated”. I would love that comment.”
When I asked if the 65 items of clothing and accessories on display represent the most important pieces in their collection, Mr. Koda preferred to describe them as a “a survey of some of the more interesting pieces that we’ve had that we’ve acquired since 2000.”
Standouts in this stellar group include a rare 1922 folkloric printed Coco Chanel chemise from her Russian period (Harold said I must read the “funny label” which Karl Lagerfeld works his way into); an arresting 1939 Schiaparelli multi colored pieced felted wool coat; a 1947 dress by Adrian covered with a Surrealist Salvador Dali print; a 1995 Jean Paul Gaultier knitted dress featuring a trompe l’oeil bikini; a Rudi Gernreich dress which boasts one zipper that spirals around; a 2007/8 Rei Kawakubo white lycra, jersey, faux leather, and rubber number which features two hands folded across the chest; Alexander McQueen’s ivory silk chiffon and organza “oyster dress’ from 2003; and Vivienne Westwood’s floor length lilac silk faille “propaganda” gown which is amazingly constructed from one piece of fabric.
According to Mr. Koda, “we have other extraordinary pieces (such as their most recent Ralph Ruccis), which we are saving for our next installation. We have equally interesting things that are not in this show and which we are saving for the next series.”
“blog.mode: addressing fashion” is only the first of what promises to be an ongoing series. The next might be, “blog.mode: fiction writers addressing fashion”, or “blog.mode” film makers addressing fashion”.
(FYI, when I asked how they decided upon the first outfit on display, which also graces their catalogue (a Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons techno couture ensemble comprised of beige polyester organza, silver polyester and cellophane panne velvet), Mr. Koda’s response was, “We just wanted something that would engage people, that would be mysterious, and would have them thinking, “what is this?” Because that’s the question people ask, “WHAT is it and WHY is it?”)
What was notable (though hardly surprising), was that the bulk of the designers represented were European, rather than American, and that’s because, according to Mr. Koda, they are planning a show “more or less focused on Americans so we’ve reserved a lot of the Americans”.
“We could show Geoffrey Beene because he gave us his archives before he died; it was not as if we took our ‘best’ Geoffrey Beene. We have many ‘best’ Geoffrey Beenes. Our most interesting Oscar we’d prefer to save, our Ralphs we’d prefer to save. Other American designers who made the ‘cut’ were Donna Karan, Yeohlee, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy who design for the label Rodarte. Their beautiful pale yellow chiffon and white satin accordion pleated dress decorated with rosettes, from fall/winter 2006, (a gift from Christine Suppes, a friend and major supporter of the young duo), has the distinction of closing the installation- it was the final outfit on display. And the youthful twosome (28 and 26 years old) also have the distinction of being the youngest designers to be represented in such an esteemed way.
By the way, the Mulleavy sisters, accompanied by Christine Suppes (clad in another one of their amazing, flower embellished dresses), were among those who turned out for the cocktail reception (held at both the Costume Institute and the Temple of Dendur) on Monday evening. Others in attendance were Yeohlee (proudly taking photographs of her stunning “Bellows” dress on display in the entranceway), Manolo Blahnik (who had several of his amazing boots on display), Diane Von Furstenberg, Arnold Scaasi, Anna Wintour, Candy Pratts Price, and Amy Fine Collins, Lynn Yeager, Mickey Boardman.
Nancy Chilton, head of communications for the Costume Institute, admitted that while this has been a fun and exciting exhibit to work on, because it was a ‘first’, it also had its challenges. Now that this has been accomplished, her next “challenge” is the upcoming blockbuster spring exhibit, “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”, which will run from May 7th through September 1, 2008 and will kick off in high style with a very high profile Gala Benefit on Monday May 5th. The Honorary Chairman is Giorgio Armani (who is ‘sponsoring’ the exhibit) and the Co-Chairs are George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Anna Wintour.
According to Ms. Chilton, this exhibition promises to be a great deal of fun and is both conceptual and often literal. It’s all about using the idea of the superhero as a metaphor for fashion. As she put it, “What does a superhero do? He/she goes and changes into clothing that empowers them- and they can do anything.” And so, among the 70 ensembles culled from movie costumes, haute couture, and high performance sportswear, one can expect to find everything from the ‘S’ logo on the Superman unitard (with variations on how that’s influenced designer logos), variations on Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, and Batman ‘fetish’ clothing, and clothing made for speed inspired by the Flash.
There is no question that one of the most important aspects of fashion, is its ability to ‘empower’. In fact, this quality cannot be overstated. More on this subject later.