VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective

‘The First Monday in May’ is Fashionable Foray Behind the Scenes of the Met Gala

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art gala is perhaps one of the world’s preeminent social events and since 1995, when Vogue’s Anna Wintour took over as chair of the event, it has boasted more star-power and glamour than any other, most notably Vanity Fair’s Oscar’s gala.

 

The First Monday in May is a documentary about 2015’s event and the museum exhibition, China: Behind the Looking Glass. The film is directed by Andre Rossi and produced by Conde Nast Entertainment, Vogue, and Relativity Studios.

 

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Those cozy partners make for an all-access pass to the machinations that go into creating a gala event that is usually nothing more than a celebrity showcase — in this case, heavy helpings of Rihanna, Kim and Kanye, Beyoncé and Bieber.

 

More interestingly, however, is getting to see the making of the museum exhibition itself.


{ “The film reveals the stereotyping and racism endemic to how the West still views the East, and the challenge of designing an exhibition that balances art, history, and culture with dignity and respect.” }


Early on in the film, Andrew Bolton, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, sets up an important premise for the film and the conflict of egos within the institution: “There are people within the museum who still dismiss fashion.”

 

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Andrew Bolton, the Met’s Costume Institute curator, peruses the archives of Yves Saint Laurent.

Can fashion be art? It’s a question that the film poses but doesn’t quite know how to answer.

 

In the film, we meet some who are clearly uncomfortable with that question, such as Douglas Dillon, who oversees Asian art at the Museum and who, in several instances, stonewalls Wintour and her team when they want to re-arrange the furniture, so to speak, such as blocking a sacred temple on exhibit or adding too much Asian kitsch.

 

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At top, Anna Wintour reviews proposed designs for the exhibition and gala event, an exercise that reveals Western stereotypes of Chinese culture. Below, gowns are readied for the exhibition.

Indeed, the film reveals the stereotyping and racism endemic to how the West still views the East, and the challenge of designing an exhibition that balances art, history and culture with dignity and respect. In many cases, however, priceless art works become mere backdrops for the fashion. “Orientalism” is easier to understand than the culture itself.

 

“No-no-no, now it’s looking like a Chinese restaurant,” says Wintour, when presented with a set of presentation concepts, one of which includes giant green dragons on either side of the Met’s grand staircase.

 

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1234136_China-through-the-looking-glassAt top, Andrew Bolton fusses with the train of a Galliano gown. Below, Two dresses by Alexander McQueen, as featured in the Met’s China Through the Looking Glass exhibition.

Film director Wong Kar Wai, who’s iconic film, In the Mood for Love is just about every Western designer’s inspiration for a “China collection,” is visibly disturbed when the idea comes up for room inspired by the Mao suit and the Cultural Revolution.

 

And with Baz Luhrmann as the exhibit’s creative consultant, there is no shortage of Chinese-inspired razzle-dazzle, which somehow manages to make it past the scorn of the Museum’s more academic curators.

 

The film does lose its way at several points as it juggles the social politics of the gala event (where will Beyoncé sit? Do we really want to see Harvey Weinstein in the front row?) and the brokering of private loans from the world’s top design houses.

 

For fashion lovers, however, the film is a feast for the eyes.

 

We visit the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which loaned the designer’s epic 1977 China collection, and see a lifetime of work hanging silently in a climate-controlled safe.

 

 

 

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Anna Wintour arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 celebrating the opening of "China: Through the Looking Glass," in Manhattan, New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

At top, Sarah Jessica Parker dons a kitschy headpiece for the Gala event, while below, Anna Wintour keeps it more low key.

In one scene, we see the arrival Galliano’s 2003 China collection, with a stack of coffin-like boxes from which emerge massive gowns, most requiring up to four people to lift them out and lay them gingerly on a table, like a cadaver.

 

The First Monday in May devotes the last quarter of the film to the glitz and glamour of the exhibition’s famous opening night. “It’s the Superbowl of fashion events,” says Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley.

 

And that it is, as we watch the celebrities ascend the grand staircase, most in gowns and jewels they didn’t pay for and fulfilling their role as fashion brand ambassadors. Is fashion art? I still don’t have that answer.

 


 

>> The First Monday in May (2016). 91 minutes. Directed by Andrew Rossi. Featuring Anna Wintour, Wong Kar Wai, Baz Luhrmann, Andre Leon Talley, Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano and Ricardo Tisci, along with cameos from a laundry list of People magazine regulars.

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