Tag Archives: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Death Becomes Her & Kimono: A Modern History

Thanks to The Met, there’s tons of awesome clothes to check out for the next few months!

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1870-1872 ensemble, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire is open until February 1st in the fancy new-ish Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery, which can be reached by winding through 4,000 years of Egyptian art. It’s worth asking three or four security guards the way; don’t give up. And if you have the chance, go soon, it’s perfect for Halloween!

It’s fully handicapped accessible, but if you have the option, go down the stairs. They’re wide and have a few landings, so they’re not too strenuous. The walls along the stairs are painted with folk-art style, life-size black weeping willows – it sets the mood, especially as you walk down into the dark gallery with 1890s requiems playing in the background. Yeah!

Inside, there are about 30 ensembles from the early 19th to early 20th centuries. All are on nice mannequins with historic hairstyles in white wigs, and many have coordinating hats or veils. There are two men’s outfits, and one child’s dress, but mostly there are women’s clothes, hats, and accessories. Contemporary quotes are projected on the walls, and fashion plates are hung in one gallery.

While every piece in there is fascinating, some really stand out. One is a mourning gown worn by Queen Victoria, and two gowns worn by a princess (I forget who, sorry) in mourning for Queen Victoria. These two gowns are incredible – all glitter and spangles. There’s a bright purple ensemble from about 1895, and a late 1860s wedding gown made in partial mourning in respect for those lost in the Civil War.

So go see it! It’s great – very Gothic and Victorian and super interesting. The only truly bad thing about it is there’s no catalog!

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Over Robe (Uchikake) with Shell-Matching Game Boxes, mid-19th century. Lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection.

Kimono: A Modern History is also super good. This exhibit is up in the Arts of Japan galleries on the second floor until January 19th. The gallery begins with scraps of silk from before the 18th century. After that, some absolutely gorgeous Edo period kimono are displayed: think like-new metal and silk embroidery, eye popping colors and incredibly intricate work. Most of these pieces are displayed on racks, not mannequins, which shows the artwork much better since it’s flat.

The exhibit shows some working kimonos, especially those for firemen, some export garments and things made from exported silk in vaguely Asian-inspired designs, and then, a really interesting little collection of 1920s-1940s wartime and propaganda kimono. Who’d have thought?

(A tip for those who visit: ask a security guard to show you the staircase to the 3rd floor Chinese gallery nearby. There’s a single room up there filled with Chinese clothing from about the same period (18th century & up). It’s worth checking out!)

Kimono: A Modern History has a catalog which looks really good, too – I haven’t bought it yet but I think sometime soon I’ll pick one up.

So there’s my overview-in-a-nutshell! Enjoy!


Saint Savina’s Cote

I want to make an easy-to-wear, late Medieval/early Renaissance dress to wear to Renaissance fairs, and since I’m at The Met a few times a month, I decided to go check out their Medieval & Renaissance art.

So here’s a depiction of Saint Savina, 1510-1520, France. It seems that artists of that time didn’t worry too much about the saints & Holy Family wearing historically accurate clothing, but would put them in medieval fashions, adding picturesque drapery. These medieval artists created a sartorial look for Christian icons, and it has become so accepted that nowadays, most nativity scenes have the Holy Family wearing some form of medieval clothing plus drapery.

The label for this statue reads that in Troyes, Saint Savina was depicted as a ‘youthful pilgrim’, with a characteristic staff, hat and bag. Maybe her appearance was based off of other pilgrims, or a stereotypical image of a pilgrim at the time. She’s also a saint, so she holds a gospel and a palm frond that symbolizes her martyrdom.

The long drapery is probably artistic license, but I think the bodice of the gown underneath is fairly contemporary. I’m assuming it’s a variation on the cote or cotte (sometimes called a cotehardie), a tightly-fitted gown worn underneath the looser robe, and over a chemise. It’s tightly fitted at the torso and has fairly narrow sleeves. The skirt is long with a decorated hem.

There’s some paint left on this statue, mostly red and a great blue-teal kind of color, which the cote was painted with.

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This cote has

1) a square, decorated neckline bound with a separate pice of cloth

2) no waist seam; the skirt flares from bodice pieces

3) either it’s lined with the lining turned over the outer edge, or the edges are bound

4) and the bodice is closed with about seven pins!

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That hat …

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A pretty utilitarian-looking shoe surrounded by reasonably impractical drapery.

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That great bag.

Now about those pins. The entire outfit seems, to me, to be a mix of practical clothing suitable for walking (a simple gown, plain shoes, a staff and a bag) and possibly exaggerated, possibly classically-inspired drapery. Which category do the pins fall into? I’m assuming they’re listed under the more practical heading.

I’m reminded of a good reenacting saying, though – be the common person, not the exception to the rule. If I have to go out of my way to try to explain this cote’s different front, is it really what most women wore, or is it an exception to the rule? I think lacing is probably the way to go for my own cote.


Wandering the Metropolitan Museum

When the guard says photos are okay, I’m in heaven.

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The Triumph of Fame from The Triumphs, Brussels, 1502-1504, wool and silk. The plaque says that this tapestry, or one very similar to it, was purchased by Isabella, queen of Castile and Aragon in 1504. It shows Fame conquering Death and the Fates with Christian imagery and long wavy hair.

Check these details out.

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Don’t they look like sunglasses?

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Proving that men have been doing that super unfortunate sandals-over-socks thing for a long time now.

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Supposedly these women are the Fates, all getting trampled by goodliness and virtue. The one in the front is wearing a dress that I LOVE – but the thing that’s really getting to me is her hair.

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I think I remember wearing this when I was 5.


Excessive Fru-fru of the 1890s

In the late 19th century, women wore boas, made from lace, silk, and/or feathers. I guess it’s been obvious for others, but for me, I didn’t realize that these existed until recently – existed in reality, that is, and not as a part of polyester can-can costumes for Halloween. *gak*

This is one of my great-grandmothers, Elise. This picture was taken around 1896, in NYC. Elise is wearing a white boa, with flower-like lace ruffles at the shoulders and lengths of narrow tapes at each end. The color of her boa matches the shirt she’s wearing.

Wide shoulders were hugely fashionable during the mid-1890s, and it’s a little surprising to see that Elise is wearing a shirtwaist that doesn’t have gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves – rather, she’s wearing the ‘bishop’ type sleeve, with fullness at the lower arm and wrist. It’s a nice visual reminder that not everybody wore massively puffed sleeves during this decade. That being said, her boa is placed around her shoulders, with the ruffle exactly where leg-of-mutton sleeves would begin. Visually, the boa is creating a similar silhouette.

Boas from the late 19th century seem to usually be the long, feathery type.

The image above is from England, and is dated 1892.

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The feather boa above is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. So fluffy. The Met has handfuls of feather boas from this decade, in crazy colors like black, red, black, blue, black, pink, and black. I think they may have some in black, too.

Above: the Met has this boa too, which looks pretty similar to Elise’s boa, except it’s just the floofy part. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Elise’s boa.

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And then there’s Mary, another of my great-grandmothers. She also lived in NYC, in Greenwich Village, in the 1890s. Her hairstyle, a bun with a curly puff of hair at the front, seem to have been most popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. So I’m guessing that this picture was taken between 1888-1895.

In this picture she’s wearing a colored shirtwaist with little circular black appliqués on the folded collar, and what looks like either a boa (made from the same appliqués, maybe lace) or some sort of decoration on the front of her shirtwaist. Because it was the 1890s, and floofy, fluffy, fru-fru-y clothing was totally in.

I’m not entirely sure what Mary is wearing here; a boa or just a fancy shirtwaist. If she’s wearing a boa, it matches her shirt (like Elise’s) – but more than that, it is identical to the decoration on the collar. Maybe she had a boa specifically for a certain shirtwaist? I can believe that – if any decade had shirtwaists with matching boas, it would have been the 1890s, right?

 


Charles James, Revisited

I’ve just found a few interviews with some of the talented folks who worked on the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enjoy!

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Conservators Sarah Scaturro and Glenn Petersen

Interview with Charles James: Beyond Fashion Co-author Jan Glier Reeder

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Photographer Karin L. Willis

 


Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Recently I took a little time to visit the new Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was both impressed and not impressed with the whole thing. I suppose after experiencing Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Charles James is tame subject matter.

So let me air the cons first. The exhibit is very unfortunately spread over a few small galleries in the museum, meaning one has to hike all the way from European or American statuary, through the Wrightsman Galleries, through the Medieval galleries, across the lobby and through the Egyptian wing to the Temple of Dendor, and finally down a flight of stairs to see the second half of the exhibit. Any atmosphere that the exhibit was meant to have is dissolved after having to follow vague signs and cryptic security guard’s instructions across the museum, elbowing through crowds as you go. This trek would be better with the help of a map, so FYI, if you go, grab one before you head into the Greek & Roman galleries (where the first exhibit begins).

So there’s really no atmosphere, which is a shame – but that’s the worst aspect of this exhibit. The cool parts are as follows:

1) So these ballgowns are really complex. The museum broke them down with computer animated videos showing how each was draped, cut and sewn. Some videos even show X-ray images of parts of the gowns. The brilliance of James’ design is in his drapery, and these animations and live camera feeds show exactly how awesome his work is. The entrance to the first gallery even has a handful of muslins on dress forms, so you can see the process of designing the gown.

2) Robotic arms with cameras at the ends move around the gowns, showing close-ups and angles that you might not see from where you stand.

3) The gowns are so well-lit, even for being in a darkened room, that you won’t miss a detail. Somebody did an awesome job with that. Most of the gowns are on their own slightly elevated platforms, and you can actually walk all the way around them. Others are on a larger platform, sometimes partially behind glass, but the design of the exhibit allows you to see from most angles, even if it means crossing the room. Hallelujah! No more security guards getting nervous when I bend over to see something a few inches closer.

The brilliance of this exhibit is the way the gowns are presented, and the videos and camera feeds. The exhibit designers and curators certainly chose the perfect way to illustrate James’ genius, and they executed it perfectly. It’s the next best thing to actually holding the gown itself. Visitors get to see truly iconic designs, up close and personal. It’s not a complete experience, and it might have a bunch of frustration thrown in the middle of it as you try to find the next gallery (I had given up finding it when I found it; I was walking out when I saw the entrance), but the presentation of each item is magnificent.