Hello my fellow readers,
For centuries, China has been considered the land of isolation and the unknown. A land where no Westerner’s foot was set, and where the European monarchs have not yet conquered the territories. However, throughout history, many artists, designers, and dreamers had pictured the isolated land until it broke out of its shell. Therefore, the Western fashion has fallen under the influence of the Eastern culture and its traditions, innovating patterns and simulating prints and colors, allowing the Western fashion to gulp a breath of Chinese air.
This year’s fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, explores the details of the Chinese traditional dress and the Western inspirations made from it, with an intricate history behind it.
Every year, The Costume Institute’s Anna Wintour Costume Center displays a variety of themes in their exhibitions: from European ball gowns to never-seen-before haute couture designs. These themes are usually witnessed at the Met Gala, which occurs every year in May, where any celebrity or aristocrat is able to disguise their appearance through the gowns for the night. “China: Through the Looking Glass” was this year’s Met Gala theme, which many of you might know of through Rihanna’s outrageous yellow gown and Sarah Jessica Parker’s “flamed” headpiece. The interpretations of Asia through clothing are works of intricate details and exploration of traditional values and morals. The exhibition executes just that: it combines the themes of “West meets East” and “Imagination vs. Culture,” all under one roof.
As you walk into the first gallery, the first thing you might witness is the lighting of the whole exhibition. It is utterly dark inside the gallery, as per usual, however, everything lights up in red and gold: the two symbolic colors of China. In addition, prior to you walking down the steps to the gallery, you are able to walk through a hall in which there are several costumes taken from the Chinese military and the Western version of an Eastern military ensemble, yet, made for a woman.
The gallery displays a visual comparison between the interpretation and tradition by laying out the Western version on a mannequin while next to it, the traditional gown of an emperor from the 18th century yet, on what seems to be a golden glass.
As you continue wandering throughout the gallery, there are clips from the movie, “The Last Emperor,” which perfectly describe and set the ambiance for the first part of the exhibit. The clips are shown on the two blocks of displays, through which you are able to walk through and take photos, while watching the clips from the movie. Luxury, all in one.
The exhibition doesn’t just stay in one gallery. It continues throughout some of the Asian Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art-something I have never seen before to be done in any exhibition. Usually, the exhibition will be limited to a few separated galleries, however, China: Through the Looking Glass spreads itself across the museum, guiding you throughout history of tradition and culture. One gallery leads to the next, and the next explores Chinese women and their portrayal in film. Anna May Wong is the main focal point in the second gallery because it explores her path from a farmer’s daughter to a Hollywood actress. The looks are iconic, and they are all portrayed in various clips in which Wong is wearing them. Classic, elegant, eternal are the definition words for the looks portrayed.
Another gallery focuses on a specific style of a traditional dress, from 1920s to 1940s, worn by “the third wife of the Chinese diplomat and politician Vi Kuiyuin Wellington Koo, and Soong Mei-ling, the wife of Chiang Kai-shek.” In addition, there is a grand display in the center of the room, which plays video clips from a variety of movies, such as, “In the Mood for Love,” and “The World of Zoo Sue Wong.” Yet, the gallery is just as dark and mysterious as the previous two.
The next part of the exhibit portrays a different, usually overseen part of China: a much brighter, lighter side. If every other gallery was dimmed by dark lights with red undertones, this part of the exhibit shows a brightly lit room with blue undertones in order to compliment the dresses portrayed on the display. They are magical and they take your breath away, while giving you a completely different experience and showing the other side of Chinese culture through Western interpretation. Yves Saint Laurent’s perfume, Opium, was inspired by the Eastern culture, and his sketches for the first bottle of Opium are on display as well, yet, in a different gallery.
The exhibition carries you through such a magical world that you had never explored before, showing different sides of Chinese culture and tradition. Yet, my favorite part of the exhibit, and probably the one I was secretly hoping to see the most, was the golden evening gown designed by Guo Pei, in 2007. A combination of gold and silver silk with metal and sequins throw you in awe, because you start to picture how the gown was made. Breathless and speechless, I stared at the dress as if I was struck by lightning.
Describing the whole exhibition will be practically impossible because you have to see it in order to feel it and understand it. However, what I could have shared with you, I did, and I hope that you will be able to experience it at least through these photographs. But, if you are somewhere in the city, the exhibit is on display up to September 7th, so go explore and discover the world of China. From Yves Saint Laurent to Galliano, here is China: Through the Looking Glass.
Thank You so much for reading, and have a fantastic week.
xoxo, Sophia for Fashion Caption.
P.S.: “China: Through the Looking Glass” means something that is so perfect yet flawed. It is an allusion to Buddhism’s “Moon in the Water” because it is something so beautiful, yet it might have both, positive and negative connotations. It is a blessing yet it is a sin.