The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced its latest fashion exhibition, which will follow In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.
In America: An Anthology of Fashion will look at the genesis of American style, focusing on the 19th century through the latter part of the 20th century. Opened in May at the New York Museum of Art, it will provide the theme and dress code for this year’s Met Gala.
If the focus seems academic, the exhibit is sponsored by Instagram and the display of over 100 articles brings a modern, social media-friendly lens. Eight different film directors – including Tom Ford, Sofia Coppola and Judy Dash, who directed 1991’s influential Daughters of the Dust – will create three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames” featuring the clothes. Rather than a sterile white-walled gallery, these will be housed in the museum’s period rooms – which range from a 19th-century drawing room to one designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Andrew Bolton, chief curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, explained that the focus was on designers and designers who were not household names, those who had become “the footnotes in the annals of fashion. ‘fashion history’.
“It is through these largely hidden stories that a nuanced picture of American fashion emerges,” he said, “one in which the sum of its parts is as important as the whole.”
This exhibition is designed to give these forgotten talents a long-awaited spotlight. Among them are Ann Lowe, the African-American designer who learned sewing from her grandmother and later made Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress in which she married John F Kennedy in 1953, and Elizabeth Hawes, a kind of Elsa Schiaparelli from America. A 1937 dress on display here – which Hawes called “the pie dress” – featured arrows pointing at its wearer’s breasts and buttocks. In addition to this, dresses by Charles James, Halston and Stephen Burrows will be on display.
Six case studies of specific elements will also provide discussion points. They include a jacket believed to be worn by George Washington at his inauguration in 1789, and two Brooks Brothers items – one worn by Abraham Lincoln, the other a livery worn by an unidentified slave, from circa 1857-1865.
There has been some criticism surrounding In America: A Lexicon of Fashion since it opened in September. Korina Emmerich, who has an outfit included in the exhibit, spoke about being the only indigenous designer included. “I’m half white and part city – I didn’t grow up on the reserve. I know I’m more acceptable in situations like this,” she told The Cut. “But there are people who have been sewing much longer than I have: famous elders in our community.”
Emmerich’s outfit was a protest – the stripes refer to those on the Hudson’s Bay Blanket that were given or traded to Indigenous peoples and spread smallpox among their population. In America: A Lexicon of Fashion displayed this outfit alongside another using similar stripes by André Walker. While the captions explain the problematic history around these stripes and Emmerich’a’s intentions, Walker’s design is labeled “comfort”.
When the Met shared Walker’s cape on Instagram in September, with the caption “This Andre Walker cape will represent the qualities of warmth and comfort,” it received backlash. “A symbol of genocide and colonialism, not warmth and comfort,” one comment read.
The Lexique exhibition will take place in parallel with Anthologie. Bolton said another 30 garments will be added to the ongoing exhibit at the end of March, focusing on new designers. “These additions will reflect the vitality and diversity of contemporary American fashion,” reads a press release.