Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion; All We Need To Know

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Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion

“Our mission is to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art .Over the seven decades since The Costume Institute became part of The Met in 1946, our collecting strategy has shifted from creating a collection of Western high fashion that is encyclopaedic in breadth to one focused on acquiring a body of masterworks.”


Dress, Sarah Burton (British, born 1974) for Alexander McQueen (British, founded 1992), spring/summer 2011; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2014 (2015.69) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen

Those were the words spoken by Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton, who will oversee of The Costume Institute’s exciting and enthralling Fall 2016 exhibition, Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion. The department has ‘honed its collecting strategy to amass masterworks of the highest aesthetic and technical quality, including iconic works by designers who have changed the course of fashion history and advanced fashion as an art form.’


Ball Gown, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2010; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2011 (2011.8) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen

The theme is, of course, ‘The Masterworks,’ and in keeping with this, the exhibition will highlight approximately 60 of these masterworks from the early 18th century to the present, which The Costume Institute has acquired since its last acquisitions show. In the main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery, each piece will be organised chronologically and displayed in packing crates and on palettes to create a raw ‘just arrived at The Met’ feel.


Ball Gown, Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856-1926) for House of Worth (French, 1858-1956), 1898; Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1965 (2009.300.1324) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen

Interestingly, each ensemble will be accompanied by an in-depth explanation of its significance within the canon of fashion history, making for an exciting and informative exhibition. Newer, more modern pieces will be teamed with older pieces of the collection, in order to illustrate ‘the enduring influence of certain master couturiers and iconic historical silhouettes.’ An example of this is a recently acquired John Galliano for Maison Margiela dress from 2015, being paired with a Cristobal Balenciaga gown from 1964.


Ensemble, John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for Maison Margiela (French, founded 1988), spring/summer 2015; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2015.541) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen

Assistant Curator Jessica Regan states “While fashion is often derided for its ephemerality, its quick responsiveness to change ensures that it is an immediate expression of the spirit of its time—a vivid reflection of social, cultural, and political circumstances, and of shifting ideals of beauty, The masterworks we’ve chosen to highlight are among many we have collected in the past decade that draw on forms, motifs, and themes of the past, reinterpreting fashion history in ways that resonate in the present.”

Designers in the exhibition will include the likes of Azzedine Alaïa, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Geoffrey Beene, Thom Browne, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons (House of Dior), Hedi Slimane (Saint Laurent) and Yohji Yamamoto, all  of which will make for an eclectic and exciting mix.

The exciting announcement will surely draw up all the more eagerness and anticipation for the Met’s major 2017 exhibition which will serve as the theme for next year’s splashy Met Ball, a key event in the fashion calendar.


“Paphiopedilum Philippinese Orchid” Hat, Philip Treacy (British, born Ireland, 1967), spring/summer 2000 haute couture; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Philip Treacy and Isabella Blow, in honor of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.182) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen

Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, will be on display in the Anna Wintour Costume Center from November 8, 2016, through February 5, 2017.


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Written by Rachael Martin

Rachael is a graduate from Queen's University, Belfast with a bachelor's in English Literature with Creative Writing. A freelance writer and blogger, her hobbies include blogging and reading.

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