The MET’s Latest Exhibition Signals a New Era in Fashion

It’s ‘About Time’ the industry really changed.

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Last May saw the cancellation of fashion’s biggest night: the MET Gala. But the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is officially back in action. The institution just opened its 2020 exhibition, tracing half  a century of fashion. 

Curated in celebration of the MET’s 150th anniversary, ‘About Time: Fashion and Duration’ trails the history of fashion, from 1870 to the present—exploring the symbiotic relationship between fashion and time. The exhibition design consists of two timelines—one chronological, one cyclical—each represented by enormous clock faces and organized around the principle of 60 minutes of fashion. Each ‘minute’ is in fact a pairing of garments (sometimes a century apart) that share a connection through silhouette, material, or technique. 

Christian Dior’s iconic ‘Bar’ suit from 1947 is paired with a 2011 Junya Watanabe black leather jacket that retains the signature narrow waist, full hips and rounded shoulders of the ‘Bar’. A Black PVC Iris Van Herpen dress from 2012 is juxtaposed with a 1951 ivory silk satin ball gown by Charles James echoing the crescent-shaped silhouette on either side of the hips.

Christian Dior 1947 ‘Bar’ suit / Junya Watanabe 2011 black leather jacket

Iris Van Herpen 2012 Black PVC dress / Charles James 1951 ivory silk satin ball gown

And as the exhibition suggests, the pairings serve as proof of the coexistence of past and present through influence and inspiration. Think of it this way: it’s as if fashion is constantly influencing itself in order to create its future. 

With the rise of debates surrounding designers seeking inspiration from one another, as discussed on the cult fashion vigilante instagram account Diet Prada, it’s not far fetched to conclude that fashion has been mistaking novelty for innovation. But, if that’s truly the case, what can the industry change to help restore a true notion of creativity? Narrowing down its insanely busy calendar of 6 collections per year might be a good start. Producing less but better, is a good option, too.

 

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You know we love a good side-by-side comparison, so to see it come alive at the @metcostumeinstitute was pretty neat. This year’s exhibition “About Time: Fashion and Duration” could be taken as a direct reaction to the grueling pace of the fashion industry, making the case for the timelessness of great design. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pieces from The Met’s collection, some dated over a century apart, were juxtaposed to show the influence of fashion’s ephemerality. Some pairings featured marginal design changes like a JW Anderson coat from this year that shares the dramatic leg ‘o’ mutton sleeves and flared silhouette with a raincoat from 1895. Some looks that have become iconic in their own right, were important to see with their predecessors, notably a 1986 Yohji Yamamoto coat with an exploding tulle bustle against a true late 19th C. walking dress. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There were a handful of pairings we wished could be a trio. A 1920s Chanel LBD was displayed alongside a 2018 Off-White dress emblazoned with “LITTLE BLACK DRESS”, yet Franco Moschino’s iconic 1983 redux is puzzlingly absent. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If the installation was hindered by the pandemic, you couldn’t tell. The first room, laid out like a huge clock face, features a pendulum swinging from the ceiling. It yielded to a second mirrored room, which reinforced the repetitive nature of the subjects. Signage was spare, and it felt refreshing to be able to form your own interpretations without being spoon fed a singular point of view, although there were a few instances where the common thread between the garments was hard to spot and some justification could’ve benefited. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Swipe through for 10 of our favorite pairings. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Credits: 1/ Normal Norell 1952 (L), Prada 2016 (R); 2/ Lanvin 1927 (L), Loewe 2020 (R); 3/American 1895 (L), JW Anderson (R); 4/ Probably American ca. 1885 (L), Yohji Yamamoto 1986-87; 5/ Schiaparelli 1938, Yves Saint Laurent 1978 (R); 6/ Dior 1947 (L), Junya Watanabe 2011 (R); 7/ Xuly Bët 1993 (L), Stephen Burrows 1970s (R) ; 8/ Viktor & Rolf 2005 (L), Madeleine Vionnet 1939 (R); 9/ Vivienne Westwood 1994 (L), Georgina Godley 1986 (R); 10/ Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis 1993 (L), Rudi Gernreich 1965

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This brings up fashion’s main preoccupation of the moment: its fast paced system and the impact it has on the environment and the working forces within the industry. The timelines of the exhibition serve as a metaphor for the linear nature of the current fashion system and the circular business model it wishes to establish in the future. 

Perhaps the past can inspire more than just designs, techniques, or patterns, and literally become the raw material we use for future designs; as is the case for the final look of the exhibition, a Viktor & Rolf Spring/Summer 2020 haute couture dress made of surplus fabric from old collections patchworked together as a nod to the upcycling movement

There’s another, equally important lesson in the show: in its celebration of the craftsmanship and savoir-faire underlining fashion, we find value in quality pieces that are made to stand the test of time. And if we hope to create immortal pieces for the future, haute couture and bespoke are perhaps to be the greatest assets to the process. 

Perhaps a major industry rehaul is needed. But can the fashion industry create new systems that conserve the principles of these assets while appealing to a younger utility-driven and environmentally conscious generation? Will made-to-measure and made-to-order take over the higher echelons of businesses?

 

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Some favorite pairings from #abouttimefashionandduration @metcostumeinstitute @metmuseum staged by @esdevlin masterfully curated by #andrewbolton @irisvanherpen and #CharlesJames @chanel by #KarlLagerfeld and #SarahBurton for @alexandermcqueen @georgina_godley and @viviennewestwood @fkachristianlacroix #christianlacroix and #CharlesJames @alexandermcqueen #alexandermcqueen bumster skirt with a c1880 bustle #ChristianDior @dior and @normakamali #ElsaSchiaparelli @schiaparelli and #YvesSaintLaurent @museeyslparis #jeannelanvin @lanvinofficial and @jonathan.anderson for @loewe #gabriellechanel @chanelofficial and #NormanNorell @nicolasghesquiere for @louisvuitton and a c1902 ensemble by Morin Blossier #morinblossier #abouttime

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