Sleeping Beauties

The Metropolitan Museum of Art — Book

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Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion

Book

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest and most prestigious art museums in the world. It houses an extensive collection that spans over 5,000 years of art, representing cultures from all corners of the globe. One of its most anticipated events is The Met Gala, an annual haute couture fundraising event celebrated for its extravagant fashion.

Concept and Inspiration

The project is inspired by themes of nature, serving as a metaphor for the impermanence of fashion. Much like nature, where everything is transient and in the process of constant change, fashion possesses an inherent vice — a flaw or characteristic that leads to its inevitable deterioration over time. This idea of inherent vice is central to the project, which explores the delicate and ephemeral nature of fashion.

Exhibition

The exhibition, conceived in collaboration with architecture firm Leong Leong, consists of 29 modular rooms housing 15 “sleeping beauties”—garments spanning 400 years that are too fragile for display on mannequins, carefully preserved horizontally in glass cases. Using advanced technology, these displays are brought to life, engaging the senses through sight, smell, and sound.

One notable section features an Alexander McQueen jacket, showcased under a ceiling teeming with flying crows, creating a dynamic and haunting atmosphere. Other sections incorporate elements such as insects, enhancing the natural theme. Some displays are illuminated and shaped like terrariums, reinforcing the connection to natural history.

Another room explores the idea that perfume lingers in a garment, featuring three dresses, including Paul Poiret’s 1913 La Rose d’Iribe dress. Sections of the walls are painted with scents that correspond to each dress, creating an immersive olfactory experience. Adjacent, a 1938 House of Schiaparelli blue silk crepe evening dress once owned by socialite and philanthropist Millicent Rogers is displayed. Nearby, plastic tubes release the scent of six key molecules from the dress, allowing visitors to “smell” Millicent Rogers—her fragrance, natural body odours, diet, lifestyle, and surroundings.

Research and Development

To develop a visual language for this project, extensive research was conducted at various museums in London, including The Horniman Museum and the Natural History Museum. These visits provided valuable insights into archival visual languages, characterized by typewritten labels, charts, and graphs.

Publication Design

The project culminates in a book that borrows the visual language of natural history archives and labelling. The book has a clean and stark appearance, with objects presented as if placed on a backlit lightbox, reminiscent of Nick Knight’s Flora series. This approach blends art and science, highlighting the archival nature of the fashion pieces while maintaining a contemporary aesthetic. The book is structured into three thematic chapters: Earth, Air, and Water. Each section delves into distinct aspects of the exhibition’s exploration of fashion’s connection to nature and the elements. The chapter dividers are printed on black paper with silver ink, evoking the aesthetic of X-ray imaging.

This project for The Met captures the beauty and fragility of fashion through a thoughtfully curated blend of nature-inspired themes and advanced technology. It not only animates the exhibits but also offers a new way of experiencing art and fashion, underscoring their impermanence and inherent vice.

Authored by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge, The Costume Institute. With contributions by Margherita Barone, Linda Borsch, William DeGregorio, Nick Knight, Stephanie Kramer, Rachel Lackner, Dr. Junpeng Lai, Christopher Mazza, Dr. Ronald Miles, Glenn Petersen, Elizabeth Shaeffer, and Sissel Tolaas

Photography by Nick Knight

Designers featured in the exhibition include:

Alexander McQueen
Paul Poiret
Elsa Schiaparelli
Cristóbal Balenciaga
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Christian Dior
Yves Saint Laurent
Valentino Garavani
Jean Paul Gaultier
Vivienne Westwood
Madeleine Vionnet
Charles James
Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons)
John Galliano
Gianni Versace
Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel)
Miuccia Prada (Prada)
Raf Simons
Tom Ford
Alber Elbaz

2024