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Reawakening Fashion’—the exhibit surrounding this year’s Met Gala theme—is previewed ahead of public opening

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Social media outlets such as TikTok, one of the sponsors of this year’s Met Museum spring exhibit and infamous gala, among others, view fashion as a feast for the visual sense.

Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute‘s chief curator, begs to differ. He suggests in the latest exhibit that other senses, such as smell, touch, and hearing, are also ignited via fashion. (It also provides fodder for the Anna Wintour-orchestrated gala—this year with co-hosts Bad Bunny, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Lopez, and Zendaya— with its theme).

Dior’s Garden – Courtesy

Bolton, along with Met Museum CEO Max Hollein and Loewe‘s Jonathan Anderson, welcomed invite-only guests and press to preview ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’, the latest exhibit centered on natural flora and fauna and features over 220 pieces from the museum’s costume archives along with several new acquisitions and examines how fashion once worn, perseveres once it becomes a cherished relic in a museum.

Kicking off the private tour was Hollein, who explained the examination of the garments in a new light.

“This exhibit was inspired by the desire to see, understand, and research the multifaceted sensory elements of the masterworks here at the Costume Institute collection. A painting is painted to be looked at sitting on a wall and for us to interact with it [hanging]. A dress is designed to be worn and move in space with its wearer. When a work of fashion enters the Met Collection, something happens; it becomes an object. It is transformed into that existence we can no longer wear, touch, feel or hear or smell it in the way the original creator intended,” Hollein explained to the crowd.

Jonathan Anderson of Loewe, another show sponsor, addressed the room next. “It’s inspiring to watch Andrew Bolton; I’m going to go off script to thank him. It’s difficult to take things that are ultimately worn by a people and bring them to life,” he said, speaking directly to Bolton, “You have the most incredible eye and compassion in something that a lot of people don’t. As a designer, you made me realize what I do because it has historical importance, and you brought that out of people in this exhibition. It smells different, looks different, and that is because of you.”

The exhibit revives the widest breadth of the Costume Institute’s collection to date to include new acquisitions and brings them to life using technology and reexamines traditional museology in a way that reawakens them using AI, the latest cutting-edge technology that even historied institutions aren’t immune from embracing.

Red Roses – Courtesy

Bolton also engaged Nick Knight and other technology and research teams to accomplish this multi-media disciplinary show, one of which could break down molecules to get a sense of smell on a garment.

“The 220 pieces on display range from the 17th century to the present and is our largest, most ambitious in terms of range and stroke. This includes 75 pieces that extend our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and emerging design talent,” Bolton said, noting that designers such as Joseph Altuzarra, Phillip Lim, Ronald Van der Kemp, and Thebe Magugu are among some of the new pieces.

(FashionNetwork.com caught up with van der Kemp as he asked a museumgoer to take a photo of him in front of his piece on display. “It’s the first time a design of mine is in an exhibit at the Met and part of the permanent collection,” he said).

“More than any other form of artistic expression, fashion undergoes the most radical transformation status upon entering the Met’s Costume Institute collection. Fashion is a living art form that requires most of our senses for full appreciation and greatest understanding; it’s to be seen, heard, touched, smelled, and sometimes even tasted. We aim to reactive the sensory nature of the garments,” Bolton continued, noting that many garments are too fragile to be placed on a mannequin, so they are displayed lying flat in cases; hence the sleeping beauty comparison.

He also promised that museum guests would hear the rustle of a “robe a la Francaise, the tinkling of tin flowers on a dress by Francesco Risso, the clanking of shells on an Alexander McQueen dress, and the jangling of a dress by Joseph Altuzarra,” all recorded to hear the purest sound.

Reseda Luteola – Courtesy

Bolten didn’t stop at sound; in this exhibit, guests will also smell garments thanks to the process of extracting smell molecules, “whether the ghostly remains of Paul Poirot’s rose perfume embedded into the dress his wife wore” or a series of hats and dresses mainly from Schiaparelli and Mainbocher worn by socialite Millicent Rogers in which one can detect her perfume, body odors of what she ate or drank, including alcohol—or smoked.

To achieve this, galleries either piped in the fragrant smells or, in one room, suggested guests rub a wall and then smell their hands. Some rooms were developed by artist Sissel Tolaas, known for her work with Balenciaga.

For touch, a miniature version of a Miss Dior dress from 2014 was recreated for the exhibit with a 3D printed version of the dress on display for viewers to touch (spoiler alert: it had the texture of carved coral).

Many of the rooms, broken down into three sections, ‘Land’, ‘Sea‘, and ‘Air’, with specific themes such as ‘Roses’, ‘Poppies’, ‘The Sea’, Birds’, ‘Insects’, ‘Beetles’, and ‘Snakes’, contained films overhead to reinforce the theme created by image maker Nick Knight, founder of ShowStudio, who was a creative consultant on the project. One film showed a Jonathan Anderson jacket with live grass sprouting and growing.

The idea of AI being used in the exhibit was intriguing. In one case, an avatar fully realized vertically a lain Charles Frederick Worth dress, which would move and drape when worn on a hologram. Another depicted how it was to ‘hobble’ around in hobble skirts using the technique called Pepper’s ghost.

The Mermaid Bride – Courtesy

In addition to juxtaposing clothing from ancient and modern eras, fine art pieces were incorporated into the exhibit. At the entrance was a lone bronze head, sleeping by Brancusi. Guests entering the exhibit got a sneak peek of the last look, a case of saving the best for last.

Working with an AI studio, a wedding dress designed by Pierre Gerber of the Callot Soeurs atelier of a certain Natalie Mary Sargent Potter, a 1930s New York and Boston socialite, was brought to life. With a train so long that a staircase was needed to prop it, guests could scan a photograph of Natalie and begin to ask her questions as her photo was also reawakened.

It was a charming and amusing trick, even useful for fact-checking this article. Bolton had mentioned that this particle aspect of the exhibit was the costliest and most time-consuming. That was unfortunate as, at times, the show was a bit too sleepy, and Natalie and her snazzy story livened up the show.

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