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

The Costume Institute to focus on American Fashion 

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

4 May 2021

The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has confirmed that its next major exhibition will be a two-part show dedicated to American fashion, running from September 18, 2021, until September 5, 2022.

Part One, ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, will open on September 18 at the Anna Wintour Costume Center and will celebrate The Costume Institute’s 75th anniversary and explore a “modern vocabulary of American fashion”.

Ensemble, Christopher John Rogers (American, born 1993), fall/winter 2020–21; Courtesy Christopher John Rogers. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Christina Fragkou.

Alongside the exhibition will be a “more intimate” Met Gala on September 13, depending on government guidelines. This will be co-chaired by actor Timothée Chalamet, singer Billie Eilish, poet Amanda Gorman, and tennis player Naomi Osaka, alongside honorary chairs Tom Ford, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri, and Anna Wintour.

The exhibit will be organised to resemble a fictional American home, constructed with transparent walls that intersect and overlap, blurring the boundaries of the interior rooms. Examples of 20th- and 21st-century fashion will populate the rooms, reflecting the customs and behaviours of the imagined occupants.

Cape, Andre Walker (American, born 1967), Pendleton Woolen Mills (American, founded 1863), spring/summer 2018; Courtesy Andre Walker Studio. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Shoji Fujii.

Designs by pioneers of American sportswear will be displayed alongside works by a “diverse group of contemporary designers” including pieces from Christopher John Rogers, Sterling Ruby, Conner Ives, and Prabal Gurung. These will be displayed to illustrate what curator Andrew Bolton calls a “shifting emphasis in American fashion” defined by feelings of fear, delight, comfort, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, happiness, belonging, self-reflection, and self-representation, among other qualities.

Director Melina Matsoukas has also been commissioned to produce an open-ended film to project in the galleries, the content of which will evolve throughout the exhibition.

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

Costume Institute to hold “intimate” Met Gala in September

Part Two, ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion,’ will open on May 5, 2022, in the museum’s American Wing period rooms and marks the final instalment of The Costume Institute’s trilogy of period-room shows, which began with Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century (2004) in the French Period Rooms, followed by AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion (2006) in the English Period Rooms.

The exhibit will explore the development of American fashion by presenting narratives that relate to the complex and layered histories of those spaces featuring women’s and men’s historical and contemporary dress dating from the 18th century to the present in vignettes.

Ensemble, Prabal Gurung (American, born Singapore, 1979), spring/summer 2020; Courtesy Prabal Gurung. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Paolo Lanzi/IMAXTREE.COM.

There will be a series of three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames” produced in collaboration with notable American film directors. These mise-en-scènes will explore the role of dress in shaping American identity and address the complex and layered histories of the rooms. Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu curator in charge of The Costume Institute, said in a statement: “Over the past year, because of the pandemic, the connections to our homes have become more emotional, as have those to our clothes. For American fashion, this has meant an increased emphasis on sentiment over practicality.

“Responding to this shift, Part One of the exhibition will establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on the expressive qualities of clothing as well as deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Part Two will further investigate the evolving language of American fashion through a series of collaborations with American film directors who will visualise the unfinished stories inherent in The Met’s period rooms.”

Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, added: “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 will consider how fashion reflects evolving notions of identity in America and will explore a multitude of perspectives through presentations that speak to some of the complexities of history with powerful immediacy. In looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life.”

A second Met Gala will take place on May 2, 2022, to mark the opening of An Anthology of American Fashion. Both exhibitions will run until September 5, 2022.