Wear flats, this new exhibit is on multiple floors at the Metropolitan Museum.
Monday morning, I, and about half of New York City based press went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the newest costume exhibit, China Through the Looking Glass. This venture started out as a way for the museum to celebrate the centennial of their Chinese collection. It turned into a global exhibition that is 30,000 square feet, Via Anna Wintour, and the auspices of the Palace Museum of Beijing, and 60 other lenders, this is the biggest exhibition ever created by a museum. In the world.
During the opening remarks, Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO, stated that the exhibit is really more of a “Cinematic journey, and has the largest collection of Chinese art in the world (at present.” He went on to say, “A large portion of the exhibit is done through the Chinese gallery You will wend your way through 200 years of(mostly) Western fashion and several millennia,of Chinese art. Celebrating china's allure. The final imprint is approximately 30,000 feet.”
“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make-believe,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute in a press release. “Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”
As you walk into the exhibit, you’re first confronted with two Mao suits juxtaposed against Vivienne Westwood’s version—Done with shorts and much chicer. Then there's a little something from Andy Warhol andVivienne Tam. You then have two choices: To go down a flight of stairs or up. Either way, you’ll end up in wonderland. Literally. During the opening remarks, it was mentioned that each room was created as if it was a film set. Each room has a film snippet and music playing. Mirrors are everywhere, and you do feel as if you are Alice and have slid down a rabbit hole.
But what a rabbit hole to fall down into! The above and below photos (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) doesn’t do it justice. You are at once enveloped into a world that is beyond luxury, beyond art, beyond anything you might have looked at in the past. There are a few galleries next to this one on the same floor. Mannequins are adorned with headpieces created by Steven Jones. They are works of art too. You really don’t know what to look at first.
Behind the glass in another section is a grouping of qipao or cheongsam dresses. They are traditional form fitting dresses worn by socialites and the upper classes. I have one, and no, you can’t dance in them. Well, you can, but very slowly.
Upstairs the exhibit winds through the Chinese galleries. Room opens upon another room. Your eye alights on one outstanding item, only to be boggled by another equally stunning. I slowly inched my way around the exhibit; at times I was so overcome by what I was seeing, I had chills or were near tears. I wondered as I looked around, what Professor Killigrew would make of all of this. I was an Asian Studies minor in college; my main prof was Professor Killigrew. He was brilliant. He had taught at Beijing University. And way back when, he was CIA China Desk. And he was a raconteur. I loved those classes with him. It’s because of him, that I can drone on and on about Wade-Giles versus Pinyan. Talk about the Well-field system of agriculture, and the Turtle Back Defense.
One room was re-created as a moonlit garden outside a palace. Above you, is a blood red moon. Dotted here and there are mannequins dressed in fantastical garments. Designers included in this exhibition include Paul Poiret, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, John Galliano for Dior, Jean Patou, Yves Saint Laurent, Cristobal Balenciaga, Roberto Cavalli,Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Valentino, John Paul Gaultier (there's more!) and period gowns from the 1700s.
Above--Roberto Cavalli, below-Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.
To do this exhibition justice, one must go slowly through each room. I would in fact, advise going several times, to visit one section, then go back and see another. You'll see groupings of intricately carved perfume bottles, some adorned with tiny Fu dogs, one even had its own miniaturize armoire. There are decorative arts, furniture, porcelain and more on display.
To walk through China Through the Looking Glass, is truly a once in a lifetime event. Savor every moment as if it was a glass of very, rare, very fine wine.
The exhibit runs from May 7, through August 16, 2015. Visit the Metropolitan Museum online for more information. I have more images on my Instagram account the_queen_of_style or https://instagram.com/the_queen_of_style/