Get Off Your High Horse

Yin and yang, bi-polarity, and the stark contrast between high and low, tradition and innovation, glamour and functionality, is precisely what defines fashion right now and has for quite some time. It also describes the style of the English, who can be stodgy, conservative, and steeped in tradition, on one side of the coin, but rebellious, kinky, and well, a bit off their rockers (as in punks and rockers) on the other side. It is precisely this irreverence and dichotomy that is at the heart of “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression”, the new Conde Nast and Burberry sponsored exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It seeks to explore and define English lifestyle and Englishness vis a vis the relationship between fashion, class, lifestyle, home décor, and history. Perfect. Quite frankly, the only thing missing was the rain, as brilliant sunshine was the order of the day.

Last night, the exhibit was celebrated in all out splendor at the gala which has long been referred to as “the Party of the Year”. The ‘best dressed’ in my opinion (those who had fun with it and kept in mind the theme of the exhibit instead of just wearing a boring bare gown – yawn!) included Sarah Jessica Parker and Alexander McQueen, who arrived together in coordinating over scaled tartans. Her dress, which was one shouldered, asymmetrically draped, short in front and long in back, looked young, fresh and modern; Linda Fargo in a voluminous taffeta Union Jack emblazoned ball skirt worn with a fitted black jacket and hair piled up; Diane Von Furstenberg who wore a narrow 1 shouldered column in the Union Jack motif (of her own design I would assume); Zac Posen, whose black and white embroidered jacket bore the word, London, in the back; and a highly theatrical John Galliano almost unrecognizable in a wig, heavily embroidered black frock coat, red and silver top, brocade pants.

But yesterday morning, as crews were decking the halls, getting out the amazing flora and fauna, and laying the Red Carpet, there was a press preview (from 10 – 1) attended by many of fashion’s biggest names and unsurprisingly, many of them British nationals….such as Anna Wintour who was escorting Giorgio Armani (she seems to be going blonder and blonder- almost platinum, and regardless of the fact that it was a warm spring day, was wearing a fur trimmed ivory coat and matching dress), Hamish Bowles, Doyle’s Clair Watson, Manolo Blahnik, Suzy Menkes, Hilary Alexander, milliner Stephen Jones, John Rotten, Vivienne Westwood, and Christopher Bailey, head of design for Burberry.

Speaking of Burberry, on January 9th 2006, Burberry announced that Angela Ahrendts, 45, would be joining the company as Executive Director and would become Chief Executive on July 1st at which time Rose Marie Bravo would assume the newly created post of Vice Chairman. When I congratulated Ms. Bravo, who had been the subject of one of our early ‘Masters of Fashion’ Interviews, on her enormous success in revitalizing this at one time sleepy label, she smiled and downplayed it, saying, “I had a lot to work with”. Indeed. It was also the perfect time and timing is everything. So many other companies are in the throes of trying to do exactly what Ms. Bravo did and while they might get close….no cigars! Lightning only strikes once I’m afraid.

There was veritable fashion gridlock as members of the press and photographers winded their way through the six English Period rooms where the clothing is being exhibited, vignette style. While it makes for a theatrical, dramatic, charming, atmospheric, moody, and very appropriate setting, and is a wonderful way to present the fashion vis a vis English lifestyle and tradition, it felt dark and very claustrophic in some of the narrow halls connecting the rooms as members of the press and photographers with their large cameras and equipment navigated the small areas. I can only imagine the crush last evening, as throngs of couture clad guests in voluminous ball skirts and gowns tried as elegantly and chicly as possible, to get past one another in an effort to see and BE SEEN.

Getting back to the morning’s festivities….there was an 11 a.m. press conference held in a great light filled hall with bistro tables and chairs set up so that guests could comfortably enjoy coffee, tea, crumpets, croissants and marmalade (how English and how civilized!). Among those who got up to make brief (or not so brief) remarks was Christopher Bailey who observed that it’s “Burberry’s 150th anniversary this year, and it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with such a wonderful exhibition n.”

Andrew Bolton noted that, “Anglo Mania also marks the second time the departments have collaborated together, making use of the museum’s period rooms (the last time was Dangerous Liaisons, two years ago). “And in every vignette, there is an explicit relationship between the clothes and the room’s decorative elements”. In fact, it is precisely this consistent relationship between the fabric, the rooms, and the clothes that is at the “very heart of the exhibition”. He then singled out the impact of punk, born in 1976 on the fashion world, which was very much on display throughout the exhibit. And while he noted that all the designers may have his or her unique style, what unites them all is their ability to mix a wide range of styles, different periods, and cultures and he expressed his deep gratitude to all for their involvement. He then went on to say, “their unique creativity disproves Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “nobody ever appreciates the artist until they’re dead.” Talking about truisms, this from a man who also said, “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”.

In WWD Friday, April 28th “The Brits Are Coming to the Met”, Andrew was quoted as saying that “The clash between tradition and transgression, past and present, brings this edgy feel, which drives a lot of English designers.” It certainly describes the 72 items in the show, the bulk of which are made up of “Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Hussein Chalayan, Stephen Jones, Phillip Treacy, and Christopher Bailey for Burberry because the Burberry trench is the iconic piece.” I was curious to know who he felt were the American counterparts to this group. Without hesitation he reeled them off: “Rick Owens, Three As Four, Anna Sui – who has the wonderful way of mixing high and low and is adept at the eclectic mixing of styles which is so British. And Marc Jacobs, who is inspired by historical references as well. They translate it into much more wearable clothing but it’s still very much there.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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