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Metropolitan Museum's new show takes a feminist look at global fashion

The ‘Women Dressing Women’ exhibition looks at the art of womenswear from the 20th century up to the modern day

A person attends the media preview of the Costume Institute 'Women Dressing Women' exhibit, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on 4 December (AFP)

By AFP

LAST PUBLISHED 07.12.2023  |  11:00 AM IST

New York's Metropolitan Museum has pulled the curtain back on its latest blockbuster exhibit, showcasing women couturiers many of whom have been kept in the shadows of obscurity until now.

One of the centerpieces of the "Women dressing women" exhibition is a dress by pioneering African-American designer Ann Lowe who was largely ignored in her day, even though she designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding gown in 1953.

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The muslin dress is exquisitely detailed, sporting silk roses and intricate taffeta.

Three decades before Jackie O stepped out in Lowe's masterpiece, forgotten French fashion house Premet released a dress designed by Madam Charlotte called "La garconne."

Also read: For Karl Lagerfeld, fashion was both art and business

"This 'little black dress,' predates Chanel's successful take on the garment by three years," said Mellissa Huber, associate curator of the Met's Costume Institute.

Through the 80 pieces by 70 creators, the exhibition also looks at the art of womenswear from the 20th century up to the modern day, as well as the environmental advocacy of designers like Gabriela Hearst and Hillary Taymour.

"The biggest overarching takeaway is really to celebrate and demonstrate the incredible range and diversity of women designers who have been present throughout history and who have made so many meaningful contributions to fashion," said Huber.

"We aspire to dispel the stereotypes that women are more practical than men, or that they all designed with themselves in mind."

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For women, the story begins in the anonymity of sewing workshops to which they were often relegated.

But several French women designers made their mark in the early 20th century, including Madeleine Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin and Gabrielle Chanel

In handpicking outfits designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, Nina Ricci and Vivienne Westwood, the Costume Institute delved into its collection of 33,000 pieces representing seven centuries of clothing.

The exhibition, originally scheduled for 2020 to celebrate a century of women's suffrage in the United States but delayed by the pandemic, ends on a more political note, looking at absences and omissions in museum collections.

Even as the exhibit gets under way, preparations are also in full swing for the 2024 Met exhibition and Gala, the fashion world's party of the year -- and the theme will be "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion."

The Met Gala, which draws an A list of celebrities, will take place in Manhattan on 6 May to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, which the public can view from 10 May through 2 September. Both are cosponsored by popular video sharing app TikTok.

The sweeping and immersive exhibition will feature about 250 garments and accessories spanning four centuries, from the Costume Institute's vast archives of 33,000 pieces, from a 17th century embroidered jacket to an Alexander McQueen gown from spring-summer 2001 made of shells. 

Also read: The Met Gala 2024 theme is ‘Sleeping Beauties’