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On a frigid New York morning, with the winds gusting down Fifth Avenue, I stepped into the perfectly serene galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. Just days before, I had put Natty’s Spring collection into production and had completed the photo shoot for A/W 2017, so I treated myself to a visit to see ‘Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion’ at the Anna Wintour Costume Institute.
For lovers of fashion, the exhibit is a visual feast of garments ranging from the opulent flowing robes of the eighteenth century to stunning pieces, such as Rei Kawakubo’s sublimely red, sculptural dress. A masterwork, as defined by the exhibit, is a garment that demonstrates the highest level of aesthetic and technical quality and is emblematic of a distinct era in fashion’s history.
The exhibit’s sixty fashion masterworks, acquired by the Costume Institute over the past ten years, span three centuries. Eighteenth century garments, for example, were chosen for the fineness of their fabrics and embroideries rather than the complexity of the garment’s construction.
Left to right, Robe Volante, ca 1730 Blue Silk damask and Robe à la Française, ca 1760 Light blue silk faille
Nineteenth century masterworks embody increasingly sophisticated tailoring techniques manifested in their distinctive silhouettes. Masterworks of the twentieth and twenty-first century show the creator as artist, with the garment becoming a ‘signature’ of the designer. These designers pushed the boundaries of fashion, both in terms of technical achievements as well as advancing its position as a living art.
Charles James’s black evening dress is an inverted ‘Tulip’ with the body-forming silk ending in a dramatic cascading tulip flounce. Juxtaposed to the Tulip dress and in contrast to its black formality is Lanvin-Castillo’s evening dress, a playful, cake-like vision of purple tulle.
Left to right: Lanvin-Castillo evening dress, 1956, light purple nylon tulle and Charles James “Tulip” Evening Dress, 1949, Black silk satin and faille
Since Natty draws its inspirations from 1960s designs, I loved viewing the green silk dress by Cristobal Balenciago. The dress has a sculptural quality achieved by the designer’s precise cuts and the drape of the custom silk gazar. The garment’s drama lies in its minimalism and stunning saturated color.
House of Balenciaga, Cristobal Balenciago, Dress, 1967 haute couture Green silk gazar
‘Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion’ was curated by Assistant curator Jessica Regan with support from Curator in Charge, Andrew Bolton. The exhibit is also a tribute to Harold Koda, who retired in January of 2016 after fifteen years at the helm of The Costume Institute. Designers donated pieces admired by Koda for this exhibit. The exhibit runs from November 18, 2016 to February 5, 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.