Exclusive preview of The Met’s ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’

This week’s opening of “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art couldn’t be further from a sleepy fairy tale.

Visitors will make their way through a series of 29 rooms, where 16 ‘Sleeping Beauties’ – garments too fragile to hang on mannequins – are buried in glass. While many of the 220 garments, accessories and buttons are dazzling, the overall experience is – and is just that – an assault on the senses and new territory for an exhibition – fashion or otherwise. In addition to the naked eye, ticket holders will put their senses to the test. There are four galleries infused with molecular scent recordings, four galleries that enhance sound recordings, four galleries with CGI and/or digital avatars, three galleries of poetry readings, two galleries that encourage “forbidden museum behavior” – touching objects – and a gallery finale with a ChatGPT-powered interaction created by Open AI.

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While the earliest known version of the story ‘Sleeping Beauty’ dates back to 1330, The Met’s multi-sensory and digitally enhanced show is primarily about the future. During a preview on Sunday afternoon, Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton said: “For me, this is just the beginning of my curatorial journey. I love the idea of ​​moving forward with this sensory and emotional approach to fashion,” adding that creating a sound and scent database for select items would be part of that equation.

The premise for “Sleeping Beauties” is to revive costumes from the Costume Institute’s 33,000-piece collection “through the senses, so you can actually smell them, touch them, hear them and of course see them,” Bolton said. To enhance the participatory nature, visitors can run their palms over the ‘touch wall’, a 3D-printed plastic version of the embroidered pattern for Raf Simon’s 2013 ‘Miss Dior’ dress for Dior. They can also feel the 3D replica pattern of Dior’s 2014 ‘Mini Miss Dior’ dress nearby, and admire a real version in vibrant colors under a bell jar.

The prismatic effect is evident throughout the show, including at the exhibition entrance, where Brancusi’s 1910 “Sleeping Muse” bronze rests. That face was the inspiration for the mannequin wearing the show’s final look: a 1930 Callot Soeurs wedding ensemble. Placed atop an all-white amphitheater, the dress comes to life in other ways as well. With a quick QR scan, visitors can use ChatGPT to communicate with the dress’s former owner: Jazz Age socialite Natalie Potter. Another dimension is added to what Bolton described as “a honeymoon fan,” an 1869 cottonwood hand fan that was entered like a diary by a 19-year-old bride, who detailed the three weeks after her wedding.

From the start, the ancient versus the futuristic is clear. Take Charles Frederick Worth’s ‘Cloud’ dress, a silk satin and chiffon ball gown from 1887 with ‘warp loss’ caused by the deterioration of horizontal threads. Rather than masking these imperfections, the lighting on the garment draws attention to that “inherent weakness, which causes its downfall,” Bolton said. Opposed to this is a reimagined version of the ball gown in a form that seemingly dances in what is a ‘Pepper’s ghost’, an illusory technique in which an image of an object is projected offstage so that it appears to be in front of the audience. Creating that digital version took over six months and forty different views. (Appropriately, that’s accompanied by a musical score from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”) A “reawakening,” so to speak, of the Worth dress is just a stone’s throw away — an Alessandro Michele-designed Gucci cape from Fall 2017 .

The technological effects make the past more accessible in countless ways, from the projecting slides on a wall to the more complex AI and CGI, Bolton said. “What people sometimes don’t understand is that once a piece of clothing ends up in a museum, it can no longer be touched, smelled, heard or worn and you are therefore dependent on sight. Because fashion is a living art form, it relies on the body to activate it. Fashion almost begs to be touched. It exposes so many senses, unlike a painting that hangs on the wall and is just seen.”

The nature-heavy theme courses throughout the exhibition, which opens to the public on Wednesday and runs through September 2. The multi-sensory combinations are of varying degrees in the galleries intended as case studies of Painted Flowers, Blurred Blossoms, The Garden of Dior, Van Gogh’s Flowers, Poppies, Garthwaite’s Garden, the Red Rose, the Ghost of the rose, the scent of a man, the scent of a woman, Resada Luteola, the garden, garden life, insects, beetle wings, butterflies, The birds, the nightingale and the rose, sea life, Venus, shells, the siren, snakes , the mermaid and the mermaid bride.

Some of the more unexpected elements, especially the digital ones, were crafted and perfected by the exhibition’s creative consultant and Nick Knight of Showstudio, who created AI and CGI visuals, including a projection of a dying rose. Sometimes scent is the main attraction, as in The Specter of the Rose, which builds on the idea that perfume often remains embedded in a garment. Fragrance researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas translated scents using spike molecules from three dresses – including Paul Poiret’s 1913 ‘La Rose d’Iribe’ dress – into scented paint that was applied to three areas of a nearby wall that visitors could rub to to smell every scent. In another area, the intricate embroidery of a 1615–1620 waistcoat has been reimagined in an interactive relief wallpaper created to Braille specifications.

A symphony of scents can be perceived in Scent of a Woman, with numerous floral hats and a House of Schiaparelli blue silk crepe dress from the fall of 1938, which belonged to Millicent Rogers. Met visitors can use the nearby plastic tubes to smell six spike molecules from the Standard Oil heiress’s dress. “You actually smell Millicent Rogers,” Bolton said. “You smell not only the scent she wore, but also her natural body odors, what she ate, what she drank, what she smoked and where she lived.” All these scents have been extracted by Tolaas.

Mortality in the Poppies area is hinted at, where actor Morgan Specter can be heard reading John McRae’s 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Field’, which praises the First World War soldiers who died on the Western Front. An evening dress by Ana de Pombe from 1937 has a poppy print reminiscent of drops of blood. Nearby, a Viktor & Rolf spring 2015 haute couture laser-cut, poppy-inspired ensemble with a straw headpiece and carbon fiber rods is a showstopper.

Fear also creeps into view, especially in The Birds gallery, where two orange Alexander McQueen jackets are on display, including a Spring 1995 example screen-printed by Simon Ungless and Andrew Groves, while hand-painted swallows are on display in a Madeleine Vionnet evening dress from the fall of 1938. with a swallows pattern. It is the large-scale film projection of a flock of swallows that increasingly fills the sky that attracts attention. Updated recordings of fluttering bird wings are heard from the soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller ‘The Birds’. Snakes may also unnerve some attendees, as Iris van Herpen’s fall 2011 ‘Snake’ dress is set against a knights made statue of slithering snakes.

Van Gogh’s flowers are indispensable in the exhibition of the jacket ‘Irises’ by Yves Saint Laurent, inspired by the impressionist’s painting of the same name from 1889. Above your head, a rotating projection zooms in on the daring and complexity of the embroidery of the garment. Maison Lesage workers needed 600 hours of handicrafts, 200,000 beads and 150,000 sequins in 22 colors to complete the garment.

“Sleeping Beauties” also features green shots of major talent, including one of Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson’s grass-sprouting coats literally still growing in a display case. Prior to installation, the Costume Institute team cared for the coat that was embedded with seeds in an irrigated grow tent. A time-lapse video of that device serves as the background. But after a week on display, the garment will have to be replaced with a dried version for the duration of the show.

Anderson and TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew will serve as honorary chairs at Monday night’s Met Gala. TikTok is the main sponsor of the exhibition, with support from Loewe and additional support from Conde Nast. Asked about the TikTok factor, given a looming US ban on the social media platform, Bolton said: “When we approached TikTok, it was so exciting for us because it’s a huge platform. Of course it’s about technology. Hopefully our shows reach a large audience. That was and still is very exciting for us.”

Asked about any concerns about backsliding on that choice, Bolton said: “We’ll have to see how things develop [with the issue of a U.S. ban.”

Nature is meant to be seen as “the ultimate metaphor for fashion,” and one that relays a message of rebirth and renewal, Bolton said, “We also wanted to use this as an opportunity to engage with designers, who are involved more deeply in ethical, sustainable practices and acquire pieces from them.”

Other environmentally enterprising creations are Conner Ives’ “Couture Girl” dress from the designer’s 2020 graduate collection entitled “the American Dream.” The bulbous creation was made from dead-stock fabric donated by Carolina Herrera’s creative director Wes Gordon and was made with paillettes made from recycled PET by the Sustainable Sequin Co. Ives hand embroidered 10,000-plus sequins basing the shapes on his four favorite flowers. In “The Mermaid” area of the show, there is Phillip Lim’s 2021 “Algae Sequin” dress, which is made of biodegradable rayon mesh derived from bamboo and seaweed. Sustainability and the ethics of fashion should be seen as part of fashion and not designated in a special section, nor be unjustly criticized for its aesthetic, Bolton said.

In the “Seashells” area, visitors will not only see Alexander McQueen’s spring 2001 dress made from razor clamshells but they will hear what it sounds like in motion. A recording was made in an anechoic chamber. There are also other sea-worthy creations so to speak, like an Iris van Herpen’s 3D printed haute couture ensemble with spiraling shell forms, as well as a row of shell-shaped handbags by Judith Leiber.

Considering the breadth of “Sleeping Beauties” and the depth of details, it’s not surprising that the show’s layout was designed to look like a molecular formula if seen from above. Given the technology and fashion combination, Bolton said, “In a way, it’s like marrying the poetics of fashion with the poetics of science.”

The Met Previews “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”

A preview of the Met’s  A preview of the Met’s

A preview of the Met’s “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” exhibit for the Met Gala 2024.

A preview of the Met’s  A preview of the Met’s

A preview of the Met’s “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” exhibit for the Met Gala 2024.

A preview of the Met’s  A preview of the Met’s

A preview of the Met’s “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” exhibit for the Met Gala 2024.

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Launch Gallery: The Met Previews “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”

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