Costume Institute’s new exhibit understands the emotional power of American fashion


The Friday before the Met Gala (and the opening of the accompanying museum exhibit), I met designer and impresario Tremaine Emory for tea. The theme of this year’s exhibition is In America: a fashion lexicon, and Emory, who designs t-shirts, sweaters and sneakers as Denim Tears, had recently found out that his work would be featured on the show. He began to think about the meaning of American fashion – the way it is rarely about design and much more about combining references and style with originality. It is a kind of agitation, you might say.

“Marc and Ralph,” he mused, referring to Jacobs and Lauren respectively, “are the ultimate curators. Good at curation, at style — Kanye [West]it’s a good one too. Curators and storytellers.

He went on to list more: Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, Willi Smith. JCPenney! And, of course, Levi’s, with whom he designed his most famous clothes: jeans and a matching jacket adorned with cotton crowns, coveted products, but also with which he told the story of his family as a sharecropper. , and the exploitation of black labor through the cotton trade. These pieces, as well as a sweater with the African-American flag by David Hammons, are in the show.

The inclusion of Emory, who is in his early 40s and has never done a runway, suggests that the Met’s exhibit will communicate something a little different. Over the past few years, the Costume Institute has tackled big themes like camp and the Catholic Church, organizing amazing exhibitions of Versace and Galliano couture dresses. This approach would not make sense this year, for several reasons. American fashion isn’t really about bravado or show off: the average New Yorker on the subway is dressed in crocs and sweatpants. And even the most accomplished American designers, from Claire McCardell to Supreme, triumph for the simplicity of their clothing and the way they create expressive pieces with mostly vernacular shapes.

American designer Eli Russell Linnetz chats with curator Andrew Bolton.Photo by Roy Rochlin / Getty Images.

Yet fashion fans and even designers feared that the theme of “America” ​​would lead the Institute, which has been criticized for not highlighting the work of non-white designers enough, to tell a cliché story of American fashion, that of tasteful ball gowns. and clever if the sleepy pantsuits. Instead, this show is American fashion as a quilt, explained chief curator Andrew Bolton, and it offers an awe-inspiring aerial view of the variety and diversity of American fashion today. Rows and rows of designs are featured, each with its own fascinator designed by Stephen Jones with a name to sum up the work, and which puts cult young designers like Emory and Eli Russell Linnetz alongside legends like McCardell and Donna Karan.


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