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Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion

Culture Watch
Gallery view of ‘Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion’ at the Met’s Costume Institute.

By Jessica Mehalic Lucas

Fresh out of the fashion archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute presents an incredible selection of pieces acquired over the past decade in “Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion.” On view until February 5, the NYC exhibit highlights 60 stunning ensembles from the early 18th century to the present that have changed the course of fashion history. Creations from Madeleine Vionnet, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld are displayed on platforms inspired by wooden packing crates, as if they have just arrived at the museum.

Consisting primarily of women’s wear, in addition to some men’s wear and accessories, the exhibit is arranged chronologically to illustrate the evolution of fashion. It kicks off with rare pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, including a silk French robe volante brocaded with three different types of silver thread, and extends to modern day creations, such as Demna Gvasalia’s padded-hip suit from his 2016 Balenciaga debut.

Select pieces are paired with earlier acquisitions to show the influence of certain designers and iconic silhouettes. For example, a form-fitting Azzedine Alaïa knit dress from Spring 1994 is next to Charles James’s curve-hugging “La Sirène” evening dress from around 1951; a sweeping red coat from John Galliano for Maison Margiela from Spring 2015 is juxtaposed with a red wool broadcloth coat from France, circa 1780.

The exhibit’s finale features ensembles dedicated to Harold Koda’s retirement as Curator in Charge in January 2016. Raf Simons donated a look influenced by 18th century menswear from Christian Dior’s Fall 2014 Couture collection; Tom Ford contributed the sequin football jersey-inspired mini dress from his Fall 2014 collection.

While the exhibit showcases the museum’s recent additions, it also sheds insight into the Costume Institute’s collection strategy. “Our mission is to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art,” Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton, who arranged the show with Assistant Curator Jessica Regan, said in a press release. “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 encyclopedic in breadth to one focused on acquiring a body of masterworks.”


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