The Costume Institute at The Met’s new exhibition will finally open at the end of this month. About Time: Fashion and Duration celebrates the 150th anniversary of the museum, and was initially planned to open on the first Monday in May. Due to the pandemic it was postponed, but it isn't all bad news - the delay has given curators time to include a selection of designs from the most recent shows. Here's everything you need to know about this blockbuster exhibition.
“I always thought that fashion is really just another name for time,” explains Andrew Bolton, the current head curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. “So I wanted to do an exhibition that was a meditation on fashion and temporality." His idea was to show the ways in which fashion has changed through years, and how it's stayed the same. Bolton was thinking about Henri Bergson’s concept of duration - that the past always coexists with the present - and asked multi-disciplinary artist Es Devlin to create the scenography for the gallery space. It winds round like a clock, showing 60 historical garments paired with 60 more recent designs that echo them.
The selection, based on the museum's archives, ranges from pieces dating back to the end of the 19th century to fabulous designs by modern fashion wunderkids, such as Alexander McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gauthier and Virgil Abloh. Notably, there are several striking juxtapositions, illustrating how fashion designers are still inspired by the historical. For example, a raincoat with gigot sleeves from 1897 is shown next to a similar coat from JW Anderson’s autumn/winter 2020 collection, while a 1902 metal thread-embroidered jacket and lace jabot by Morin Blossier sits by a Nicolas Ghesquière’s jacquard-weave vest and blouse created for Louis Vuitton in 2018.
To keep the focus on the silhouettes and how they've changed through time, the curators have decided to work only with black garments. The one exception is a white dress from Viktor & Rolf’s spring/summer 2020 haute couture collection, at the very end of the exhibition. Made from upcycled swatches in a patchwork design, it's a perfect symbol of the future of fashion, with its emphasis on community and sustainability.
The exhibition is soundtracked by Oscar-winning actresses Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore, who read extracts of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, depicting the protagonist's relationship with time. All three actresses are familiar with Woolf’s work: they all starred in The Hours, inspired by Michael Cunnigham’s novel of the same name, about three women of different generations whose lives are interconnected and impacted by Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway.