NEW YORK (AP) — Even for a legendary director like Martin Scorsese, the assignment was daunting.
Take one of the famous American period rooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and essentially make a film of a frame without a camera: a painting, not a film, but using your cinematic sensibility. Your actors are models and the costumes have been chosen for you.
“Creating a one-frame film in a period room? A great opportunity and an intriguing challenge,” the director writes in a statement alongside his creation, a mysterious mix of characters, emotions and fashion in the museum’s striking Frank Lloyd Wright room.
Eight other directors, including Regina King and Chloe Zhao, are also putting their stamp on vintage rooms, for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” the Met’s Spring Costume Institute exhibit that will launch with Monday’s Met Gala. and which will officially open May 7. Guests at the gala, which is raising millions for the self-funded institute and has become a major fashion and pop culture spectacle, will be among the first to view the exhibits.
Also among the first: Jill Biden. The first lady visited the exhibition for a preview on Monday morning and explained how she learned in her current job that language is not the only means of communication, fashion is too. “We reveal and hide who we are with symbols and shapes, colors and cuts, and who creates them,” Biden said.
The first lady explained how the history of American design is full of unsung heroes, some of whom are now celebrated by the new exhibition, especially women. She also recalled how she sent a message of solidarity with Ukraine by wearing a sunflower appliqué on the blue sleeve of her outfit during the State of the Union address. “Sitting next to the Ukrainian ambassador, I knew I was sending a message without saying a word,” she said.
The exhibit is the second part of a larger show on American fashion to mark the Costume Institute’s 75th anniversary. Curated as usual by star curator Andrew Bolton, the new episode is both a sequel to and a precursor to “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which opened last September and focuses more on designers. contemporaries and establishes what Bolton calls a vocabulary of fashion. (The shows will run concurrently and end in September.)
While the new show “Anthology” is meant to provide crucial historical context, it also seeks to find untold stories and overlooked characters in early American fashion, especially female designers, and especially those of color. Many of their stories, Bolton said when announcing the show, “have been forgotten, overlooked or relegated to a footnote in the annals of fashion history.”
The nine directors were brought in to animate the storytelling with their own varied aesthetic. In addition to Scorsese, they include two of Monday night’s Met Gala hosts – actor-director King and designer-director Tom Ford. Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash, Autumn de Wilde and last year’s Oscar winner Zhao also contributed.
For King, the Richmond Room, depicting the domestic life of wealthy Virginians in the early 19th century, helped shine a light on black designer Fannie Criss Payne, born in the late 1860s to once-enslaved parents and turned local seamstress. . She was known to have sewn a name tape into her clothing to “sign” her work – part of an emerging sense of clothing making as a creative endeavour.
King says she sought “to portray the power and strength that Fannie Criss Payne exudes through her awe-inspiring story and exquisite clothes”, placing her in a prosperous work situation – and proudly wearing her own design – suiting a client and employing another black woman as a seamstress.
Filmmaker Blank looks at Maria Hollander, the founder of a mid-19th century clothing company in Massachusetts who used her commercial success to advocate for abolition and women’s rights. In the museum’s Shaker Retiring Room, director Zhao connects with the minimalist aesthetic of 1930s sportswear designer Claire McCardell.
De Wilde uses her set in the Baltimore dining room to examine the influence of European fashion on American women – including some disapproving American attitudes about those low-cut dresses from Paris. Dash focuses on black seamstress Ann Lowe, who designed future first lady Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, but who received little recognition for it. “The designer was shrouded in secrecy,” Dash writes. “Invisibility was the cloak she wore, and yet it persisted.”
In the wing’s neo-Gothic library, Bravo examines the works of Elizabeth Hawes, a mid-20th-century fashion designer and writer. And Coppola, considering the McKim, Mead & White Stair Hall and another room, writes that she didn’t know what to do at first: “How do you stage a scene without actors or a story?” She eventually teamed up with sculptor Rachel Feinstein to create distinctive faces for her “characters”.
Each filmmaker dipped into their own bag of tricks. For Scorsese, the clothes given to him were designed by brilliant fashion designer Charles James – the subject of his own costume show (and Met Gala) in 2014. Scorsese knew he had to create a story “that could be felt along the length of this room.” He looked to Technicolor films of the 1940s and used John Stah’s “Leave Her to Heaven,” what he calls “true black Technicolor.” As for what takes place before and after the scene we see – which includes a woman crying near a portrait of a man and a Martini drink nearby – “my hope is that people will walk away with multiple possibilities playing out in their minds. “
The exhibition in the Versailles room of the museum, so famous for its panoramic circular view of Versailles painted by John Vanderlyn between 1818 and 1819, is sure to be talked about.
Ford transforms the room into a representation of the “Battle of Versailles” – not a military conflict, but the name given to a major American fashion night in 1973, when five American sportswear designers (including Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein) “faced off” against five French fashion designers at a show in Versailles and showed the world what American fashion is made of.
In his painting, Ford decided to make it a real battle with warring models, many of whom were dressed in ensembles from this landmark show. “Weapons have changed,” writes Ford. “Instead of fans and feather boas, there are fencing foils and front kicks.”
“In America: An Anthology of Fashion” opens to the public on May 7. Part one, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” remains open at the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Both close in September.
For more on AP’s Met Gala coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/met-gala