2020 Costume Institute Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum, NY: a NONSENSICAL RAZZAMATAZZ


The Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute in the 150th anniversary of the museum

focused its review of fashion on the changes and persistence of style of women’s couture over time. 

The show promised an overwhelming variety of almost exclusively black outfits in which we could delight.  Almost all belong to the Museum.

We were destined, however, mostly for disappointment. 

There are two rooms. 

The first, offering 60, paired outfits in chronological order  on a wave runway.  They are from 1870 to the present.


They are presented in darkness with neon lights stabbing the collection and a giant pendulum ticking the sixty minutes of the hour themselves demarcated by lit stabs. 




A view of the dark room of the exhibition with a giant pendulum ticking away



You strain to see the evolution of shapes and even more to see the fabrics and embellishment.



Peignoir and gown, 1930, attributed to the Boué Soeurs , 1899-1957; black chantilly lace embroidered with polychrome silk ribbons.  Promised gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art





On the left, Riding Jacket, 1902; black silk velvet appliqued with polychrome silk satin ribbons and embroidered with polychrome silk thread and gold silk and metal thread in floral motif. Morin Blossier, French.


On the right, ensemble in 2018 for Louis Vitton, French, founded in 1854;  by Nicolas Ghesquière, French born 1971.  Gilet of polychrome silk jacquard in floral motif; shirt of white silk charmeuse; shorts of black synthetic plain weave shot with gold Lurex.







To turn each piece into a Darth Vader exercise, audio running overhead with  heady and pompous literary references to the mysteries that Time presents,


to a public interested as much in technique and textiles as in presentational razzle-dazzle is bordering on the self-absorbed and effete. 


You hope to feast your eyes in the second room of 60 additional paired outfits exhibited on a second runway: a circle surrounding an inner circle with a womb in its middle.




View of the reflection of the inner circle runway in the mirrored ceiling of the second room 



The floors, walls and ceiling are mirrored.  Every outfit and everyone moving in this room is multiplied such that you have difficulty focusing.  More stabbing neon lights also.






You have difficulty staying out of the way of your own multiple image. 


Instructed that this second room is to show designs which pre- or post-date the Darth Vader outfits and are a break from them but relate to them in terms of motif, material, technique or decoration,





you wonder whether it is worth straining your eyes and mind.  You stay because couture is an art and craft of high order and you love textiles of all kinds. 


But the scavenging yields little.




On the left, 2015 springtime/summer collection, black synthetic leather and metal studs.  Noir Kei Ninomiya, Japanese founded 2012.  Courtesy of Comme des Garcons. 

On the right, black rhoidoid and silver metal, 1968.  Paco Rabanne, French born 1934.




On the left, 1983 spring/summer dress, black silk crepe embroidered with trompe l’oeil necklaces, bracelets and belts of pearls, clear crystals and polychrome beads.  Karl Lagerfeld, 1933-2019, German for Chanel founded 1913.

On the right, 2019/2020 autumn/winter tunic of black cotton net embroidered with polychrome crystals in the shape of earrings; trousers of black wool twill appliqued with black silk satin.  Sarah Burton, British born 1974 for Alexander McQueen, founded 1992




On the left, autumn/winter 1988/89, dress of black wool, knit and embellished with synthetic pearls.  Patrick Kelly, 1954-1990, American

On the right, autumn/winter 2013 dress of navy blue synthetic knit embroidered with synthetic pearls, Swarovski crystals and metallic beads.  Olivier Bousteing, French born 1985 for Balmain founded 1945




On the left, autumn/winter 1987/88 haute couture dress of black synthetic faille overlaid with black synthetic lace embroidered with black synthetic grosgrain; panniers of black synthetic net flocked with black synthetic velvet dots.  Christian Lacroix, French born 1951.

On the right, too far away to see: a black silk dress designed in 1952 by Charles James, born in Britain, 1906-1978





On the right, dress of ivory silk satin, 1951.  Charles James, 1906-1978,  American born Great Britain.  Brooklyn Museum Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

On the left, autumn/winter 2012/2013, haute couture, black PVC.  Iris van Herpen, Dutch born 1984





The impoverished view that the presentation of these outfits in this exhibition produces can be seen below.



In the Darth Vader room was this, on the left:  an evening dress of 1957 designed and made by Hubert de Givenchy: 

black silk ottoman overlaid with cotton guipure lace embroidered with silk velvet flowers.



Is it a matter of life and death that we see clearly what silk ottoman and cotton guipure lace are?  Of course not.



But what a pleasure it would have been if we could see it clearly especially since we are never to touch or wear it!




On the left, autumn/winter 1957/58 haute couture evening dress of black silk cotton overlaid with cotton guipure lace embroidered with silk velvet flowers.  Hubert de Givenchy, 1927-2018, French. 

On the right, a dress of 2013 by Raf Simmons (Belgian born 1988) for Dior (founded 1947) even more difficult to see.




At this exhibit, an Iris van Herpen dress



Autumn/winter 2012/2013, haute couture, black PVC.  Iris van Herpen, Dutch born 1984



and this same dress at a prior exhibition at the Met without histrionics of stabbing lights and mirrors





Autumn/winter 2012/2013, haute couture, black PVC.  Iris van Herpen, Dutch born 1984




and the space and light and no high jinks that it takes to show off embroidery as intricate as that of the

Boué Soeurs .  This was from another exhibition at the Metropolitan some years ago






Court presentation ensemble, 1928, made by the Boué Soeurs .

Hand sewn ivory silk tulle, machine embroidered with couched silver cord; insets of silver blue silk and metal lame with machine picot edging; hand appliqued with hand embroidered white silk tulle with artificial flowers and blue silk ribbon and floss.




compared with the gloomy presentation of the Sisters’ work in this exhibition




Peignoir and gown, 1930, attributed to the Boue Sisters, 1899-1957; black chantilly lace embroidered with polychrome silk ribbons.  Promised gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art




And an Isseye Miyake dress in colour in an exhibition at the Met some years ago



 ‘Pleats Please’, 1993 (recreated 2016). Machine sewn polyester plain weave, machine garment pleated in paper.

Flying Saucer dress, spring/summer 1994, pleated black synthetic taffeta.   Issey Miyake, Japanese born 1938.



compared to its black version in this exhibition where its pleated technology cannot be appreciated




Flying Saucer dress, spring/summer 1994, pleated black synthetic taffeta.  Courtesy of  Issey Miyake, Japanese born 1938. 




and the belt and dress pleating of the Fortuny dress, Delphos, on the right  above, when seen to advantage



The  belt and dress, Delphos, 1920s-1930s; the dress of pleated black silk charmeuse, black silk cord, and brown-and-white glass beads; and belt detail.   Fortuny, Spanish, 1871-1949




The final offering, in a little alcove all on its own without benefit of stabbing light or anything else, came too late for my aggravation:




Spring/summer 2020 haute couture, dress of white and off-white cotton and synthetic lace; courtesy of Viktor and Rolf, Dutch founded 1993. 

Headpiece by Shay Ashual in collaboration with Yevgeny Koramblyum




In other words, this was not an exhibition about the art and craft of couture, the creativity of designers and the skills of thousands of ‘les petits mains’. 

What was being said about continuity and rupture in the design of couture was difficult to take in when you could not distinguish any more than a vague outline for each creation.


This exhibition – like so much else in our lives – is about the power of a small group controlling the resources of our large institutions to point at its own grand public relations razzle dazzle and private gamesmanship at the cost of our enjoyment and edification.





5 thoughts on “2020 Costume Institute Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum, NY: a NONSENSICAL RAZZAMATAZZ

  1. Well that was annoying for you, to go to the museum and can’t see the fashions because of the curator’s post modern bad decisions. I hope you told someone there to turn the gallery lights on. Did you see if the other reviews of the exhibit were thumbs down on the display? They should fire the person responsible.

    1. I think they have too much money and too much regard for themselves. This has all been building up since their successful, massive exhibition about couture and the Roman Catholic church. Very gorgeous and most instructive and with the blessing of the Vatican who sent Papal outfits and his red shoes.

      This fiasco was put on late because of Covid. I have not seen anything negative about it but that is perhaps why: everyone feeling sorry that such a massive effort – fiasco or not – had been delayed.

      I hope they get a grip of their knitting next year because this shabbiness is getting old………..

      Happy new year to you, Chris…………

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