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The Met’s Costume Institute Puts American Fashion Back in the Spotlight

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The untold stories, struggles and achievements behind American fashion will be at the center of the Costume Institute’s next major exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”

The Met Museum in New York City announced plans to host the two-part survey of American fashion to mark the Institute’s 75th anniversary.

Beginning Sept. 18, 2021, part one in the Anna Wintour Costume Center will explore a “modern vocabulary of American style emphasizing the expressive qualities of dress and deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity and inclusion,” the museum stated. The galleries will feature a fictional American home constructed of transparent walls and will showcase examples of twentieth- and twenty-first-century fashion that reflect the “customs and behaviors” of the imagined occupants.

“Designs by pioneers of American sportswear will be displayed alongside works by a diverse group of contemporary designers to illustrate a shifting emphasis in American fashion defined by feelings of fear, delight, comfort, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, happiness, belonging, and responsibility, among other qualities,” the Met stated.

Part two, called “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” will open in the museum’s American Wing period rooms on May 5, 2022. It will present narratives that explore the development of American fashion as they relate to the “complex and layered histories” of those spaces.

Parts one and two will close on Sept. 5, 2022.

In a video to announced the exhibition’s theme, Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu curator-in-charge of the Costume Institute, previewed some of the key garments that will be included in the exhibit.

Christopher John Roger’s Fall/Winter 20-21 pink plaid silk taffeta gown will be displayed in the American Wing’s ballroom, recalling the dramatic gowns designed by Charles James in the 1950s.

Backstage at Christopher John Rogers RTW Fall 2020

Christopher John Rogers

A debutante-inspired dress made from re-purposed materials by Conner Ives, a recent Central Saint Martins graduate, will represent fashion’s new mindset. A dress from Prabal Gurung’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection reflects the designer’s activism on behalf of American immigrants.

Backstage at Prabal Gurung RTW Spring 2020

Backstage at Prabal Gurung Spring 2020 show

The “Veil Flag,” a $650 black washed denim wrap made by Los Angeles-based designer Sterling Ruby, will be the democratic garment that connects the two parts, Bolton said.

The wrap, which was made during the Black Lives Matter movement of Summer 2020, explores the concept of the flag “as a signifier in flux and how our relationship to it may change when it is activated as a veil.” Ruby made a site-specific video of the Veiled Flag in front of the bank façade in the Met’s American Wing for the exhibit.

In an interview with Vogue, Bolton said he believes American fashion is “undergoing a Renaissance” that is being led by the next generation of talent. Young designers, he said, “are at the vanguard of discussions about diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability and transparency, much more so than their European counterparts, maybe with the exception of the English designers.”

Rising young stars were selected as co-chairs for the 2021 Met Gala. Set to take place Sept. 13, Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman and Naomi Osaka will co-chair the scaled-back event along with honorary chairs designer Anna Wintour, Tom Ford and Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram.

The dress code for the event is “American Independence.”

If the mass of pink, tulle and puff-sleeves that swept women’s fashion following the Met Gala for the 2019 exhibition “Camp: Notes on Fashion” is any indicator of the level of influence the event has on the market, U.S. designers are likely to have new trends and inspiration on their hands, which could provide a much-needed boost to business.

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