From a 17th century English Elizabethan-era bodice to 21st century acquisitions by designers including Phillip Lim, Stella McCartney, and Connor Ives, the core exhibit will span 400 years of history. Other pieces featured will include designs by Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and many other canonical fashion creators. These will lie at the heart of a curation that aims to unstitch and enlighten our understanding of the natural world through the fashioning of dress and textiles.
Speaking in advance of this morning’s announcement, Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, said: “Fashion is one of the most emotional artistic forms because of its connection to the body. It is imbued with memory and emotions, and we relate to it very much via our senses. One thing I hope this show will activate is that sensorial appreciation of fashion.”
Bolton explained that the exhibition will be structured around approximately 15 historically significant and aesthetically beautiful pieces from the collection that are far too fragile ever to be worn again. “These are the ‘Sleeping Beauties’ of the title,” he said. Instead of fulfilling their original worn function, these pieces—including that Elizabethan bodice and a silk satin ballgown by the American couturier Charles Frederick Worth from 1887 that was the show’s original inspiration—will instead be transformed through display.
Many will be exhibited in tandem with contemporary fashion works that unwittingly echo their elders. The illusion technique known as Pepper’s ghost will be used to revivify some, while video animation, light projection, soundscaping, AI, CGI, and other forms of sensory stimulation will be variously employed to weave a contextual fabric of understanding around each piece. Bolton added that the exhibition will be shaped around three main “zones”—Land, Sea, and Sky—as it traces evolving attitudes to the natural world through craft and the manipulation of natural materials to create garments. He said: “It is very much an ode to nature and the emotional poetics of fashion.” The contemporary emphasis on sustainability and regenerative forms of production will be represented by recently acquired pieces from some of modern fashion’s most innovative creators.
Bolton has recruited the image maker Nick Knight, founder of SHOWstudio, as creative consultant on the visual presentation of the show while the artist Sissel Tolaas, known for her work with Demna at Balenciaga, has developed scents to accompany certain key installations. The exhibition’s spatial arrangement will be designed by the architecture firm Leong Leong in partnership with The Met’s Design Department.
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