You've Seen The Met Ball Pictures, Now Challenge Yourself With Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between

A panoramic view of Rei Kawakubo/Comme Des Garçons: Art of the In-Between taken at the press preview on May 1, 2017

There's nothing to flood the press with extravagant images like the Met Ball week. It is a guarantee of at least two or three days of debate over whether Madonna looked good or ridiculous in her Moschino, or whether Katy Perry's elaborate Maison Margiela get-up was too much even for the most extravagant fashion party. Then there's the ongoing assessment of the fashion credibility of various Kardashians. After all the dust settles from that, there is a design exhibition to be seen, and in this case, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, which opens today, is one of the most challenging that the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has staged in years —on nearly every level.

As a designer, Rei Kawakubo has been at the forefront of promoting Japanese fashion since she launched her label Comme des Garçons in the early 1980s alongside a wave of designers that also included Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto among others. More than any other label, Comme des Garçons has been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of fashion in every way from materials and colors to actually distorting the way the shape of the human body is represented.  

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Gallery View, Clothes/Not Clothes © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the same time, as a brand, Comme des Garçons has steadily grown as a commercial enterprise, offering more accessible interpretations of the designer's aesthetic under a plethora of related diffusion labels, but only the most adventurous designs are represented in the exhibition. While some selections still bear little resemblance to the kinds of conventional clothes that most people wear, it's not hard to see the famous black wool sweaters consisting mostly of holes from 1982 (seen in the center of the gallery view at right) and draw a parallel to the current craze for "destroyed" denim jeans full of carefully curated ladders, tears and distressing. Kawakubo's aesthetic has tricked down and influenced fashion in subtle ways that are often totally unrecognizable to mainstream customers, and the exhibition may serve to clarify the importance of her avant-garde designs which, out of context, have often drawn derision and confusion from the mainstream. For this reason, the exhibition is arranged thematically with sections titled  Absence / Presence, Design / Not Design, Fashion / Anti-Fashion, Model / Multiple, High / Low, Then / Now, Self / Other, Object / Subject and Clothes / Not Clothes. Some have up to eight subsections with equally contradictory titles, but if you think they are inscrutable, then that is the desired effect. In keeping with Kawakubo's dedication to challenging the norms fashion, the exhibition design itself upends many museum conventions that visitors may, and should find unnerving. There are no statements on the walls introducing the various sections, and no information cards beside the objects describing their provenance and offering curatorial notes. Instead, visitors are expected to follow an expanded booklet that provides a map and legend to the show and its complex, mazelike structure. Visitors will be expected to refer to their papers, matching items to their numbered descriptions, constantly trading focus from the works on display to their booklets as they move through a series of often tightly enclosed spaces where objects are frequently placed for viewing in secluded nooks and structures that require peering around corners and into crevices. It is quite the opposite to the airy, open arrangements we have seen in some recent Costume Institute shows that offered maximum viewability. This is not a show to breeze through casually, but it may be more rewarding to keep the brochure in your bag and focus on the clothes as one takes in the show. Even better, visitors on a speedy mood might spring for the $50 exhibition catalogue which delves deeper into the Comme des Garçons aesthetic philosophy alongside spectacular photography both new and archival. (Hey, it comes with a free poster, too!) While this is one show that would have greatly benefitted from a recorded tour, there does not appear to be one available.

The other notable aspect of the exhibition is that it is the first at the Costume Institute since the Yves Saint Laurent show 1983 to focus on a single designer who continues to live and work with a going business. Why did it take 35 years for the Met to honor another living designer? The reasons stem from past concerns that the museum was being used as a promotional tool for big fashion businesses and their corporate partners. While that concern remains, it created a situation where no other curatorial department was forced to wait for an artist to actually die before they could stage a monographic exhibition. It appears that the museum and its board are realizing that the policy was not only morbid, but pointless, as many important (and dead) designers have names that continue on in business. Dior, Versace, McQueen and Chanel, to name a few have been eligible for honor with exhibitions of their work since the policy was imposed even as their companies continued to operate, but, until now, worthy designers like Rei Kawakubo among many others, were not eligible as they continued living. Hopefully, the current exhibition signals an end to the policy rather than an exception, opening up the possibility of honoring other important living designers in the future. 

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between opens today and runs through September 4 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The Met Takes A Turn Toward The Technical With Manus x Machina

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, Lower Level Gallery View: Tailleur and Flou © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Ball is tonight, and, for the first time, you will be able to watch the red carpet arrivals on E! just as if it were the Oscars or the Golden Globes. What with a splashy documentary about last year's blowout in theaters now, you might be forgiven for forgetting that this weekend, long after the gala detritus has been whisked away form the museum's galleries, there will be a exhibition opening, and this year's entry, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, is just a bit different from the lavish extravaganzas of past spring seasons.
The pre-publicity for the exhibition has put the emphasis on the "tech" of the title, which has been underscored by having Apple as a major sponsor, but the shoe is less about "wearable tech" than it is about how technology has shaped the clothes we wear, or maybe, as it focuses mainly on Haute Couture and extremely deluxe Ready-to-Wear, the clothes that just a select few of us wear —or sometimes just the clothes that models wear on the runway.
We aren't sure if the neoprene couture wedding gown by Chanel that sits at the center of the exhibition has ever been worn by anyone in real life, but it is the emblem of the exploration into the merging of cutting edge materials technology snd high fashion that is the concern at hand. In his remarks to the press previewing the exhibition this morning, Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute talked of re-evaluating the exalted status of hand-made objects versus the more mundane view of machine made products.
So the actual exhibition is not the grand, glamorous display we have seen in the past few years, though its emphasis on the inner workings of construction owes something to the recent Charles James retrospective which presented a surprising focus on the engineering structure of his famous sculptural ballgowns. Manus x Machina is a somewhat smaller affair contained entirely in the museum's Robert Lehman Wing which has been transformed into a gauzy white space by a striking arrangement of taut scrims designed by Shohei Shigematsu of OMA New York. Organized around the disciplines of Couture, it highlights the innovations that technology has made possible by juxtaposing vintage fashion with its modern counterparts made in materials that Coco Chanel and Christian Dior could not have dreamed of. See a vintage Chanel tweed suit alongside Karl Lagerfeld's 2015 versions made with an 3-D printed overlay that creates a quilted effect in a mix of high-tech, machine made materials and traditional hand-finished embroideries (pictured above). This is an opportunity for some of the most avant-garde designers to shine and shine they do, chief among them, Iris van Herpen, the Dutch designer who has made a name for herself by pioneering the use of cutting edge materials and 3-D printing to create ensembles that range from elegant to outlandish, but are never less than fascinating, especially when the museum delves into her unusual manufacturing techniques. This is one exhibition where reading the item descriptions really pays off as each item is described by which elements are handmade and which are made by machine. Also well represented is Japanese innovator Issey Miyake, whose famous pleated garments are shown alongside the gowns of the often overlooked Mary McFadden who pioneered the heat-pleating process to great commercial success in the 1970s and 80s, and Mariano Fortuny, whose technique for creating his early 20th Century pleated silk gowns remains a fiercely protected secret still held by his heirs. Also on view are Proenza Schouler's remarkable forays into fabric research, Raf Simons' elaborately constructed creations for Dior, Hussein Chalayan's mechanically automated dresses and more. It is a particularly scholarly detour for the Costume Institute, but it is encouraging to see that the museum is making a move away from some of the exhibitions of the past that had alluring themes but maybe not quite as much much depth as one might have hoped for (remember Punk? Superheroes?). This time, the flash is backed up with real substance.

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 5 through August 14th.


Go See The First Major Retrospective dedicated to Marie Antoinette's Royal Portraitist —Who Happened To Be A Woman

If you think that 18th Century painting is something that will make your eyes glaze over, then think again. If you haven't been to the Metropolitan Museum in a while, then it's time to stop by to discover one of the period's finest portrait painters. Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France is the first major retrospective exhibition devoted to Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (pictured in a self-portrait above) who made her reputation in the court of Louis XVI with her vibrant likenesses of Marie Antoinette and other members of the aristocracy. It's hard to imagine anything other than institutional art-world sexism that might have kept Vigée Le Brun out of the spotlight for a couple of centuries or so. Self-trained and excluded from Fench art institutions because of her gender, she found favor with the French royal family not just because of her talent and skill, but also because of her personal charm and ability to entertain her subjects throughout what would otherwise be tedious posing sessions. This also resulted in representations that were particularly lively for the period, showing dimensions of humanity not always evident in portraiture of the time. Forced to flee because of her associations with royalty during the French Revolution, Vigée Le Brun made her way to Florence, Naples, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin, painting her way through a good portion of Europe and leaving remarkable portraits of each region's aristocracy in her wake before ultimately making her way to back to Paris as the revolutionary climate cooled. The 80-piece Exhibition includes major works from private collectors including Queen Elizabeth II well as from the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Musée du Louvre that are rarely if ever lent to other museums. It's an illuminating look into not only the art of one of the French royal court's most lavish eras but also one woman's very real story of surviving turbulent, even life threatening times. 
If you go this weekend, you will also get an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the life of one of France's modern aristocrats. The Costume Institute's Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style closes on Sunday at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, so it's your last chance to peek into the estimable wardrobe of Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, one of the world's most stylish women, so think of it as a multi-era French art and fashion doubleheader.

Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France through May 15th and Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style through February 21st at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


See Jacqueline de Ribes' Spectacular Wardrobe At The Costume Institute Starting Today

The best result of the Anna Wintour Costume Center being built at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is that we can now regularly expect two exhibitions a year from the Costume Institute instead of just the one blockbuster show in the spring. Last November, it presented a scholarly show about mourning dress traditions the 19th and 20th Centuries which was fascinating and beautifully exhibited if a bit inherently morbid. Starting today, the Costume Institute has spun 180˚ in the opposite direction with Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, (pictured above and below) featuring highlights from the (mostly evening) wardrobe of the French countess turned designer who remains one of the best dressed women in the world, and a representative of the generation when fashion media celebrated stylish women who bought their own clothes and dressed themselves without the help of stylists. De Ribes is not an eccentric or trailblazing dresser in the way that we see other prominent women of distinctive style. While we have seen splashier, more extravagant gowns at the Costume Institute, we have rarely seen a collection of them as refined and representative of one person's singularly impeccable taste.
JacquelineDeRibesMetmuseumRaymundoDeLarrainTo fully understand the show, one must understand a bit about The Countess de Ribes herself (pictured at right). Born into aristocracy, she became the Vicomtesse de Ribes when she married her husband at 19. Fascinated as a child by fashion from watching her grandmother's haute couture fittings, she became as expert in design as the great couturiers she patronized including, well, most of them, but most notably Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior. to supplement her haute couture purchases, she had her own designs made and, unable to draw, found a young sketch artist to assist her in bringing her ideas to life. That was Valentino Garavani for whom, like many of Europe's designers, she became a muse, or something more, really. Recognizing her flawless eye, designers allowed de Ribes to adjust and edit their designs to the point where they would occasionally just turn over their ateliers to her whims. Ironically, it was her privileged station in life that for many years kept her from going into business herself. It would have been considered unseemly for her to have her name on a business, even a luxurious one, so she quietly found work advising designers and producing theater and ballet projects. Finally, shortly after her husband inherited his title as Count in 1981, she was allowed to start her own luxury Prêt-à-Porter business which lasted until 1995. Many of her own designs are included in the show, showing up beautifully next to gowns from more celebrated couturiers, and if they seem to recall the style of designers like Bohan or Saint Laurent, it is hard to say if it is because she was influenced by them or, more likely, they were inspired by her for so many years. At the press preview earlier this week, outgoing Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute Harold Koda noted that it would be easy to breeze through the show and gaze at the elegant gowns, but the exhibition bears lingering scrutiny pointing out that de Ribes the designer always saw her work in three dimensions often resulting in sophisticated spiral cut creations meant to flatter from very angle. He even broke his own strict rule against showing re-creations of older designs when she presented him with a reproduction of a Dior gown by Saint Laurent from the 1959-60 season that was realized perfectly under her strict instruction. It only took Dior's contemporary atelier about six tries to meet her exacting standards.
Ultimately, the exhibition, probably unintentionally, serves as a satisfying companion to another current fashion exhibition focusing on another woman of unique individual style. If Jacqueline de Ribes represents the ultimate in rarefied taste, then FIT's Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, shows a deceptively complex woman at the other end of the style spectrum. Taken together, Bartsch's no-holds-barred costumes and de Ribes' supreme elegance seem like two different sides of the same coin with each one using fashion as a a form of expression in windy different ways. FIT's show runs through through December 5th, and seeing them together makes for a fascinating double header.

Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style through February 21, 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


Apple Hits The Met As The Costume Institute Plans A Tech-Inspired Show For Next Spring

IrisVanHerpen-JBMondino-MetMuseumWhile the next Costume Institute exhibition isn't expected until next month, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has already announced its Spring 2016 blockbuster show, manus x machina: fashion in an age of technology (lower case specified). The exhibition will explore how designers are negotiating the impact of all sorts of technological advances on the still artisanally-based business of creating high fashion.
In a statement announcing the upcoming exhibition, Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute explained, "Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other. manus x machina will challenge the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy, and propose a new paradigm germane to our age of digital technology."
To support the exhibition, the Met has landed the perfect major sponsor, Apple, who will be represented at the Met Gala that always launches the show by its celebrated Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive who has his own point of view on the marriage of design and technology, "Both the automated and handcrafted process require similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise. There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it's the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it's machine-made or hand-made, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary."
The exhibition will include examples dating from the 1880s to designer offerings from 2015 that show the impact of technology on fashion starting with the invention of the sewing machine up to 3-D printed clothing which will be demonstrated in workshops where visitors will see garments being created. Like recent spring Costume Institute exhibitions, manus x machina will utilize the entire gallery space of the Anna Wintour Costume Center as well as another section of the museum, in this case, The Robert Lehman Wing galleries. A long list of designers featured includes big names like Chanel, Alexander Wang and Prada as well as technical innovators of the past like Mary McFadden, Issey Miyake, Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne as well as contemporary envelope pushers like Iris van Herpen (dress, pictured above) and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.
And, oh yeah, there's the big Met Gala.
In addition to Apple's Jony Ive, the ever fascinating party will be co-chared by Anna Wintour, actor Idris Elba and general media phenomenon Taylor Swift (this was bout to happen, obviously). Miuccia Prada, karl Lagerfeld and Louis Vuitton's Nicolas Ghesquière will serve as honorary chairs, so look for lots of celebrity guests to be wearing in Prada, Chanel, Fendi and Vuitton.
The exhibition is set open on May 5, so make your plans early. The Museum is offering advance ticket purchases to avoid long waits. Recent costume Institute shows have wildly exceeded expectations even without singular designer subjects. the recent China Through The Looking Glass broke records and featured a spectacular exhibition design that manus x machina is sure to top.
In the meantime, you have only a little over a month to wait to see the Costume Institute's next show, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style, which opens on November 19th and runs through February 21st.


China: Through The Looking Glass
Is Another Costume Institute Hit

You have seen all of the slinky, see-through gowns and crazy headpieces from the Met Ball, but sometimes the actual exhibition that is being celebrated can get lost in all that partying. Not this year. While it is a challenge for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to keep topping itself with its blockbuster spring shows, this year Curator Andrew Bolton has pulled out all the stops with China: Through The Looking Glass, its collaboration with the Met's Department of Asian Art which opens this Friday. The Shophound got a preview on Monday, and we can't wait to go back to see it again. Since being announced last year, the show has undergone a title change (formerly Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film & Fashion) and expanded to 30,000 square feet including both the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries as well as the entire Chinese galleries on the museum's second floor. The whopping show, unprecedented for the Costume Institute, is about three times the size of the department's typical spring shows according to Bolton, and its expansiveness is justified by some of the most striking installations the museum has ever seen. The celebrated Chinese director Wong Kar Wai served as the show's creative director, and his input is felt in the mesmerizing, cinematic way the exhibition unfolds with a deliberately disorienting "Through The Looking Glass" sense of fantasy. Each section is punctuated with carefully selected film clips ranging from Cinema's first Asian screen goddess, Anna May Wong, who had to move to Europe to escape steroptyped roles in American movies, to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, to clips from Mr. Wong's own classic films like The Grandmaster and those of his contemporaries like Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers and Raise The Red Lantern to a jaw dropping clip from Vincente Minelli's 1946 Ziegfeld Follies featuring Fred Astaire in a Chinese inspired dance number that is only slightly less offensive than his famous blackface "Bojangles" tribute in Swing Time —but that's really what the show is about. It's not just the spectacular Chinese-inspired gowns and jewels that are the showpieces, but the ongoing interplay of Chinese aesthetic filtered through Western sensibilities that creates a fantasy of China that has been constructed by both sides equally. Rather than seeing a bastardization of pure Chinese culture, which has been a common point of view of politically correct scholars in recent decades, Bolton and his collaborators take the often highly commercialized fantasy vision of China as its own form of artistic expression that leaves room to discuss things that have rightly raised the hackles of many Chinese like Fred Astaire in truly dreadful "Oriental" makeup, or the controversy created when Yves Saint Laurent named his blockbuster perfume Opium, romanticizing not just addiction but the Opium Wars of the mid 19th Century.
Ultimately, it's doubtful that Saint Laurent's perfume got anyone addicted to narcotics, and the curators leave the abundance of dazzling images they present up to the viewers' own interpretations —and dazzling they are. In some ways, the show focuses on some of the usual suspects, devoting an entire room to Saint Laurent's lavish 1977 Chinese-inspired Haute Couture collection and filling the now darkened and spooky Astor Court with pieces from John Galliano's extravagant 2003 Haute Couture collection for Dior. There is plenty from those two, who may have the most pieces in the show along with famous looks from Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Valentino, BalenciagaRalph Lauren, and several pieces by Tom Ford YSL that paid homage to the '77 Haute Couture collection. Vivienne Tam's ironic Mao-printed dresses are also given prominent exposure (pictured in the gallery below), but the real discovery is Chinese designer Guo Pei whose gilded ballgown commands a room full of Buddha sculptures all by itself, and who has already been lifted to a new level of cultural significance by dressing Rhianna at the ball on Monday night.
Ultimately the exhibition is more than the sum of its parts. British designer Craig Green's black and white warrior outfits might not mean quite as much if they weren't placed in a breathtaking forest of perspex stalks meant to represent bamboo in a room devoted to Wuxia or "Martial Hero" films (pictured above). Over that past few years, the Costume Institute has tackled themes like Punk and Superheroes with mixed results that often seemed either forced or facile, but this time, they hit the right balance of breathtaking images with depth and history underneath for visitors to find. Plan your visit carefully, and prepare for some long lines. China: Through The Looking Glass has raised the bar again for the Costume Institute's annual blockbusters.

China: Through The Looking Glass starts Friday May 7 through August 16th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side

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Jacqueline de Ribes To Be The Subject Of Next Fall's Costume Institute Show

Jacqueline de Ribes 2If you can think past this Spring's upcoming Chinese extravaganza at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, then mark your calendars for next November when it the Anna Wintour Costume Institute galleries will be devoted to the legendary French aristocrat and socialite Jacqueline, Comtesse de Ribes.
Get ready to gaze at some spectacular couture.
Though her profile has been lowered in recent years, Comtesse de Ribes, now age 85 (though, to her, it would probably be most unseemly to discuss such things),  is a socialite of the old school who was a central fixture on the international social scene for decades through the 1990s. Born into nobility, she is the sort of woman who was raised to wear haute couture, and wear it she did, becoming a muse to designers like Guy Laroche, Valentino, and, most prominently Yves Saint Laurent in the days when being a muse meant being a good customer, rather than signing an endorsement contract. Her comings and goings were chronicled by social columns and publications like WWD and the original broadsheet version of W, and she has been considered one of the world's best dressed women for most of her adult life. A muse not only to designers, her elegant profile has been photographed by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and pretty much any other photographer of note in the 20th century.
She was famous enough for her style to launch her own prêt-à-porter collection in 1983, giving her the opportunity to become her own best model as in the image above. Always an expensive niche label for the most exclusive stores, the line continued for 11 years until 1994 when she closed it citing health concerns.
Sadly, there is no gala party planned for the opening of her exhibition, as her appearances at Met Balls were among the most anticipated, especially during the pre-Vogue sponsorship era when it was really the party of the year for New York's social set before it was hijacked by Hollywood. Instead, we will get a glimpse into the wardrobe of a woman whose style helped develop some of the world's greatest designers.

The Met's Costume Institute to Spotlight Jacqueline de Ribes (WWD)


See The Dazzling Jewels Of
Treasures From India At The Met

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To be perfectly honest, The Shophound doesn't need much of any kind of excuse to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the museum has been particularly generous in inviting us to preview its upcoming exhibits this month. This week's visit concerned Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection the small but remarkable exhibition of Imperial Indian jewels from the collection originally formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani of Quatar. The exhibition features a carefully curated selection of pieces from the Mughal period in the 17th Century to contemporary pieces. More than just a collection of brooches and necklaces, it is a fascinating look into the lavish ornamentation of Indian court life, where it was the men rather than the women who were festooned with gemstones including daggers and swords, turban ornaments, anklets, nose rings and  basically any other possible vehicle for wearing jewels. There are items passed down through generations of emperors as well as newer pieces, but take it as an opportunity to Marvel over some of the mind boggling treasures that can be produced from vast, dynastic wealth from a bygone era. After all, where else are you going to see a headpiece made from enormous diamonds linked together with hand wrought golden bands decorated with huge ruby drops for good measure? (Have a look at a few of the pieces in the gallery above) Put it on your list of things to catch at the Met. This month we have already been treated to the Leonard A. Lauder collection of Cubist masterpieces, Death Becomes Her at the Costume Institute and now this lavish display of Imperial Indian splendor. Block out an afternoon and head up to the Met. It will be time well spent.

Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection through January 25th, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


The Costume Institute's "Death Becomes Her" Is Now Strangely Timely

There is no possible way it could have been planned, but the Costume Institute's new exhibition, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire has suddenly taken on new significance. There's a strange sort of symmetry in having New York's pre-eminent fashion museum opening a major exhibition dedicated to the elaborate traditions of mourning attire one day after Oscar de la Renta, "the doyen of American fashion" as he was described in the New York Times, passed away at 82. It's almost as if the Costume Institute has taken on the mantle of designated mourner for the entire fashion industry who is, at the moment, feeling the loss of a particularly beloved, towering figure.

DeathBecomesHer-AOf course, there are no Oscar de la Renta dresses in Death Becomes Her. It covers traditions of mourning that faded about a century ago, and at yesterday's preview, the sad news of his death had not yet reached the public, so visitors were more concerned with the elegant but often macabre issues at hand, mainly the highly codified rules of dress imposed on those who had lost loved ones, and the disproportionate responsibilities (and expense) placed on women to express their grief through clothes. Exactly why Western society in the 19th Century was so obsessed with death remains unclear. Possibly it was just the fact that people died younger then, and medicine was unable to treat illnesses that are now curable. Perhaps part of it had to do with bloody conflicts like the Civil War which brought mass casualties to the U.S. or maybe it was the example of Queen Victoria, who went into mourning after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861 and didn't come out of it until her own death 40 years later. DeathBecomesHer-2A monarch in perpetual widows weeds, one dress of whose is prominently included in the show (pictured above left), could really cast a pall in the 1800s, and in contrast to Victoria's steadfast display of grief, the exhibition includes two lavishly sequined gowns worn (at right) by her daughter-in-law Queen Alexandra during the later stages of mourning when lighter colors like mauve and lavender were officially allowed and seem to presage the end of elaborately dour mourning dress rules. In contrast to the stark, mostly black silhouettes on display, they hardly seem like mourning wear at all —even by modern standards. The exhibition, curated by Harold Koda, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute along with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan goes beyond merely presenting the silhouettes of the day rendered in a range of black materials to show how clothes contained specific information and spoke to people. A series of prints on display by Charles Dana Gibson gently satirizes how an attractive woman in mourning was often seen as threatening disruption to polite society, carrying a host of unspoken fears and desires that becomes so weighty she winds up fleeing to a nunnery for her own peace of mind. 

DeathBecomesHer-BDeath Becomes Her is the Costume Institute's first Fall show at the Met in seven years, but now that the Anna Wintour Costume Center is finished, we can now expect two shows a year there in the future. Taking advantage of the time of year, the Met has organized a special Halloween event on October 31st, and the gift counters on the edge of the exhibition room have cobbled together jet jewelry, Victorian period-inspired items and books ranging from macabre-themed art volumes to Edward Gorey's darkly humorous picture books. Given the surprising turn of recent events, however, the show's elegant mannequins now seem to form a silent tribute of sorts to New York most elegant designer, at least until the Costume Institute announces its own Oscar de la Renta show which, if past form holds, is likely to happen within the next year or so.

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire through February 1, 2005 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side


What Lipstick Can Buy
—Go See Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection At The Metropolitan Museum

It is pretty well known that the cosmetics department is the foundation (no pun intended) for nearly every major department store in both volume and profits, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is about to demonstrate just what some of those profits can do for one of the world's greatest museums and New York City itself. Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection opens Monday at the Met (currently in Members Previews) and is an extraordinary collection of artworks by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger that became a promised gift to the museum last year. Mr. Lauder's art holdings have long been known to be among the world's finest, and at yesterday's press preview the cosmetics scion was on hand himself to explain how he started the collection in the mid-1970s specifically to fill a gap in the Met's modern art collection and also to give something monumental not only to what he feels is the greatest museum in the world and but also to the city that has given so much to his family.

Mr. Lauder's family is nearly as well known for its philanthropy as it is for the beauty brand that bears its name, but this may be the greatest example yet of his support for the arts in part because of the incredible quality of the works, all of which are being displayed together for the first time even as he continues to add to them. Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger made Cubism the most influential art movement of the 20th Century, freeing artists from traditional representation in paintings and sowing the seeds for the profusion of modernist styles that followed including pure abstraction and pop. Lauder revealed that his criteria for creating the collection was only to include works that were so important that the museum would want to keep them on prominent display at all times, using masterpieces like the Louvre's Winged Victory of Samothrace or Van Gogh's The Starry Night at the MoMA as examples, and it looks like he has succeeded. While Cubism as an art movement has been around for over a century, it can still be challenging and often inscrutable to viewers who sometimes still struggle to find images in cubist paintings that their titles tell them are there. The exhibition is beautifully composed to also be an incredible educational experience, illuminating the sometimes mysterious paintings and demonstrating how the style developed through key examples of Picasso's and Braque's collaborations and was further refined by Gris and finally ending with the  glorious Composition (The Typographer) by Léger. If you walk in thinking that Cubism can be a cold and overly intellectual style of art, you will walk out of the exhibition with a completely different view, and it may even make you think for an extra minute about which brand of lipstick to buy when you are in the makeup department.

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection from October 20th, 2014 to Feruary 16th, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side