Inside the Met’s Patchwork-Style Survey of American Fashion
The Met Gala is a celebration of timeless glamour—nobody can deny that. Every spring, except the year 2021, the Museum sets the stage for culture’s ultimate cross-over episode, in which our favorite stars, past and present, mingle and pay homage to one another (see: Lourdes de Leon recalling Cher in a pink Moschino number, or Troye Sivan’s legendary tribute to ’90s-era Gwyneth Paltrow). But for all the hustle and bustle it brings to the Museum’s halls, the Met Gala can distract from the months of research and planning that goes into the Costume Institute’s annual exhibition. This year, the fête marked the opening of In America: A Lexicon of Fashion—a presentation that “establishes a modern vocabulary” of contemporary American design by putting words to the most jaw-dropping and genre-bending fashion moments of our era. Now that the chaos has died down, we take a look at the exhibition that provided the backdrop—and the inspiration— for a night of glitzy celebrity hedonism.
On the morning of the exhibition’s press preview, Anna Wintour, the Met Gala’s visionary, made her rounds flanked by a gaggle of Vogue girls. The show, a survey of American fashion featuring nearly 100 creations by American designers (arranged in cases like the patches of a quilt), was organized by feeling— Joy, Strength, Nostalgia, and Wonder, among others—sending a clear signal about the message of unity that inspired Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute.
More intriguing as the pieces themselves was their orientation— a dress by No Sesso‘s Pierre Davis, the first trans woman to ever present a collection during New York Fashion Week, was positioned alongside some of Ralph Lauren’s quintessential American denim and a contemporary patchwork Bode design, revealing the evolving and diverse history of a raucous country forever splitting at the seams. In addition to setting up these powerful contrasts, the show managed to hit the nostalgia spot by touching on the minimalism and effortless sensuality of American style— highlighting the simple designs of 1980s Donna Karan, a 90s Calvin Klein ensemble, a dreamy Halston piece, and refined Carolina Herrera gowns. As I worked my way through the gallery, I ran into Jill Krementz—the legendary photographer who famously shot Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock. Before we left, she asked to take my picture. She liked my outfit: thrifted Ralph Lauren slacks and a pair of Converse shoes from a recent Rick Owens collaboration. Her request to photograph my clothes, made by two designers who have shaped the past and present of American style, was a perfect conclusion to the exhibition.
Part two, In America: An Anthology of Fashion will open May 5, 2022.