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Everything to know about The Met’s upcoming American fashion exhibition

By Rachel Douglass


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Image: Marguery Bolhagen 1961 gown; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The second edition of the Costume Institute’s 2022 two-part American fashion exhibition is almost here and with it will come a more in-depth look at the evolution of the country’s design and style.

Launching May 5, the In America: An Anthology of Fashion exhibition will align with the return of the Met Gala, the Costume Institute Benefit that attracts a star-studded guest list and holds a high reputation in fashion. The event, which is sponsored by Instagram with additional funding from Condé Nast, acts as the primary source of funding for the museum’s exhibitions, acquisitions and operations.

Following on from it’s first part, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, which opened September 18, the second part of the exhibition is set to expand on this look into history, bringing a bigger range of exhibits to the table. Staged in the museum’s American Wing period rooms, visitors will get a closer look at sartorial narratives behind fashion in the country, through the work of designers and dressmakers who were active in the US from the 19th to mid-late 20th century.

“In America: An Anthology of Fashion traces the emergence of a distinct American style, revealing underlying stories that often go unrecognised,” said Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French director of The Met, in a release. “As a whole, this ambitious two-part exhibition ignites timely conversations about the tremendous cultural contributions of designers working in the United States and the very definition of an American aesthetic.”

Image: “Veil Flag” by S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA., 2020, courtesy of Sterling Ruby Studio, photography by Melanie Schiff

Designers, filmmakers and historical garments

Approximately 100 examples of men’s and women’s garments will be on display in The Met’s historical interiors, to help in telling the “unfinished stories” of American fashion: from political and cultural to personal and ideological. A particular emphasis will be laid upon the inception of an identifiable American style, with a focus on designers who led this advancement in the industry. Included in the collection are pieces by Oscar de la Renta, Herman Rossberg, Elizabeth Hawes, Ann Lowe and Jessie Franklin Turner.

Eight film directors will also be among the exhibitors, each displaying fictional cinematic short stories or freeze frames in each room. The films aim to narrate new perspectives on American fashion in the designer's own aesthetic, spotlighting a nuanced portrait of the industry and those who defined it during a specific time period. Directors set to be featured include the likes of Sofia Coppola, Tom Ford, Regina King, Chloé Zhao and Martin Scorsese. Each project will reveal the role of clothing in shaping the American identity, exploring various parts of history within each room.

A selection of case studies, placed among the pieces, will present deeper looks into specific historical garments that created key moments in the development of fashion. Two coats, originating from the legacy of Brooks Brothers, dating back to 1857-67 and worn by an unidentified enslaved man, and a dress from New Orleans-based dressmaker Madame Olympe, from around 1865, are among the earliest pieces in the collection with an identified creator.

The exhibition will run until September 5, directly alongside The Met’s ongoing first series, part of its 75th anniversary, on view at the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Almost half of the pieces currently on display are set to be rotated out in order to include more garments by designers not yet exhibited and reflect the “diversity of contemporary American fashion”.

On the two-part exhibition, Hollein said: “Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural shifts and a record of the forces, beliefs and events that shape our lives. This two-part exhibition considers how fashion reflects evolving notions of identity in America and explores a multitude of perspectives through presentations that speak with powerful immediacy to some of the complexities of history. In looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life.”

Costume Institute