Ruth Leon recommends… Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion— Met Museum 

Ruth Leon recommends… Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion— Met Museum 

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion— Met Museum 
 I grew up in a fashion family so all the recent museum shows about clothes and their designers – Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, etc, on both sides of the Atlantic –  have had a particular attraction for me. And not just me, these fashion exhibitiions at the Met and the V&A have been among both museums’ most popular in recent years.

Andrew Bolton, though British, is the Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at the Met Museum in New York. Here he takes us on a tour of his new exhibition Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion is rather more than a display of dresses and designers. What it attempts to do is to reactivate the sensory capacities of exhibits in the Museum’s collection through first-hand research, conservation analysis, and diverse technologies. The curators apply cutting-edge tools of artificial intelligence and computer-generated imagery to the clothes as well as traditional formats of x-rays, video animation, light projection, and soundscapes.

When an item of clothing enters the Costume Institute’s collection, its status is changed forever. What was once a vital part of a person’s life is now a motionless ‘artwork’ that can no longer be worn or heard, touched, or smelled. This exhibition reanimates these objects, helping us experience them as they were originally intended—with vibrancy, dynamism, and life.

The exhibition features approximately 220 garments and accessories spanning four centuries, all visually connected through themes of nature, which also serves as a metaphor for the transience of fashion. Visitors to the Exhibition will be invited to smell the aromatic histories of hats bearing floral motifs; to touch the walls of galleries that will be embossed with the embroidery of select garments; and to experience—via the illusion technique known as Pepper’s ghost—how the “hobble skirt” restricted women’s stride in the early 20th century. Punctuating the galleries will be a series of “sleeping beauties”—garments that can no longer be dressed on mannequins due to their extreme fragility.

Obviously, those of us taking in the Exhibition online will miss some of these sensory additions but this tour, while slightly stilted and a bit rushed, is enough to whet my appetite to see the real thing at the Met.

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