When the Met unpacks masterpieces from its costume collection and talks about its acquisition strategy of late, it pays to take a very close look.
To celebrate 70 years of the Costume Institute, the Met has showcased its recent acquisitions in Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, beginning with the 18th century when fashion-forward meant exquisite textiles, weaving, embroidery, and tailoring. In those days, all the rich textiles were loomed by hand.
The crisp, clean dresses and dressing gowns on display are in superb condition, showcasing the skill taken in the smallest jacquard, sheen, stripe, set-in sleeve, and pannier. See what we mean as we zero in on the fine details in our Flickr album.
Look closely and you’ll see the 18th-century silk gown embellished with three types of silver thread to maximize its glitter power by candlelight. Enjoy the dazzling stripes of post-Revolutionary menswear and gender-referenced ladies’ jackets.
The 19th-century was all about the rise of the designer label, even though ready-to-wear was rearing its head by the turn of the century. The Met showcases a gem acquired from the Brooklyn Museum collection in 2009, a butterfly gown by Worth, the first designer who truly became a household name. Check out the handwork on those butterflies.
In 1903, Poiret began a two-year stint at Worth, but recognized that as he saw well-heeled clients in crinolines, bustles, and coronation-worthy garb, a new revolution in style was percolating.
In record time, Poiret founded his own fashion house, offering women more ease and artistry as they adopted a more liberated, 20th-century lifestyle. Poiret’s 1911 opera coat shows his unique combination of luxurious fabrics, the column-shape kimono look, and bold artisan knotting for women looking for a fashion-forward twist.
Nearby, Madame Vionnet’s transparent Twenties frock with Futurist embroidery still looks right today.
Throughout the show, closing this weekind, the Met pairs contemporary looks with the more classic and iconic styles that inspired them – Galliano with 1780s French dandies, the 2015 House of Dior with the original “New Look,” and Alaia next to Charles James. How does Mr. James do it? A close look at the pairings reveals new takes on pleating, finely turned collars, custom-created textile, and engineering marvels.
Look at Balenciaga’s perfectly cut minimal silk gazar dress that billows out as one enters a room. Or Thom Browne’s masterful appliques on men’s and ladies’ looks from last year. Or Sarah Burton’s fool-the-eye butterfly dress for McQueen. The wings are really feathers.
Many stunning recent works were donated by designers to honor the retirement of legendary Met curator Harold Koda, who turned over the reins of the Costume Institute to Andrew Bolton. What a tribute!