leanor Foa Dienstag

Western Fantasies of China in Fashion & Art

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We have come to expect visual fireworks from Andrew Bolton, Curator of the Anna Wintour Costume Institute, and this year’s extravaganza is no exception.

China: Through the Looking Glass marks a first-ever collaboration between The Met’s Department of Asian Art and the Costume Institute, and the result is a wildly imaginative exhibition. Its theme and focus is not, as I expected, fashion from the real China, but Western high fashion from the fantasy of Chinese design and aesthetics in painting, calligraphy, porcelain, clothes and, most especially, in film.

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Vivienne Tam in her Chinese-theme Dress

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Matisse Portrait with Chinese Shawl to Left

 “Artists make connections,” said Mike Hearn, Chairman of the Department of Asian Art, at the Exhibition’s press opening. Among the artists making those connections are designers ranging from Balenciaga, and Christian Dior to Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Tam, as well as Met curators who offer us a painting by Matisse in which the model is wearing a shawl whose pattern is echoed in a gorgeous Chinese shawl, on the opposite wall. All the headgear originated with Stephen Jones.

Overall, the madcap Alice in Wonderland “looking glass” theme is evoked both literally – mirrors are everywhere (see below) – and metaphorically.

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Blue Dragon Jackets

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 Yellow Evening dress and Embroidered Yellow Imperial Robe in background

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Parade of Long Dresses

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Red Evening Coats

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Shoe for a Bound Foot and Perfume Bottle

To heighten the overall sensuous and mysterious mood, the Met brought in Wong Kar-Wai, Hong-Kong-based filmmaker — of In The Mood For Love, among others — as the Exhibition’s Artistic Director. Under his direction, film stills and snippets of past films play a key role in every room of this exhibition, along with evocative mood music.

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Two Gold and Black Dresses Inspired by Anna May Wong

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Red Dresses with Film in Background

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Fred Astaire Film Clip

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Black Dress with Rose (Film Image Above)

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Anna May Wong

The exhibition’s mash up of East and West, Fashion and Art, Film and Fabric, inhabits a maze of galleries on three floors – some downstairs in the Costume Institute, some upstairs in the Chinese Galleries. It’s a huge show, with more than 150 pieces of haute couture and accessories alongside pieces of Chinese art. My only complaint is that there is little rhyme or reason to the confusing layout.

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Clothes in the Chinese Galleries

My advice, start downstairs and then move upward into the Asian Galleries where some of the most spectacularly theatrical presentations are on view in, on and around the Met’s fabulous Chinese collection.

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Mao Display with Vivienne Tam Mao Dresses

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Blue & White Export China Dress

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Calligraphy Inspired 2 Dresses

Perhaps the most unusual outfit was created out of – literally – blue-and-white export China pieces. There are calligraphy-inspired dresses and Mao-inspired outfits, courtesy of Vivienne Tam

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(Left to Right) Marissa Meyer, Thomas P. Campbell, Anna Wintour, Wong Kar-Wai

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 Andrew Bolton, Curator, The Costume Institute

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 Maxwell K. Hearn, Chairman, Asian Art

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Fashionistas

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Press Attendees

As is always the case, when Anna Wintour is involved, the press opening was something of a three-ring circus, with banks of photographers, and fashionistas of every stripe. This year, the exhibition was underwritten by Yahoo, so its svelte President and CEO, Marissa Mayer, looking impeccable, offered remarks, as did the Museum’s Director and CEO, Tom Campbell, Andrew Bolton and Wong Kar-Wai. The event also attracted some of the most gorgeous – and gorgeously turned out — Chinese men and women I’ve even seen

CHINA: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Costume Institute’s Spring 2015 Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum
May 7 – August 16, 2015
Text and images by Eleanor Foa Dienstag

 



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