A perfect introduction to the thrilling fashion of the spring season should include a viewing of the new behind the scenes documentary about the annual Met Gala Gala: The First Monday in May. Every Gala taking place on, you guessed it, the first Monday in May. The film centers itself specifically around last years 2015 Met Ball Gala China: Through the Looking Glass . Many of you may remember that was the year Rihanna almost stopped time itself by wearing an unforgettable bright yellow embroidered coat by Chinese designer Guo Pei.
Amidst the grueling planning schedule and precise execution of the event the main focus fell upon two very important topics: clothing as a viable form of art (does it belong in the Met? Why is the team sequestered away in the basement of the museum?). Secondly the risk of cultural appropriation in using Chinese culture as a "theme" (Is it oriental-ism? How do you showcase a fashion past rife with controversy accurately and respectfully? How to tactfully navigate a presentation highlighting a time period when Chinese culture was exploited and misused in both fashion and film?)
Of course as a voyeur dejour the scenes with infamous editor-in-chief of Vogue America Anna Wintour were a nice treat. While careful to meter the exposure of her personal life the filmed showed select scenes in Anna's home, a dress fitting with her daughter, personal chats with close friend Andre Leon Talley and other moments that offered peaks into her vulnerable side. Much to my delight the writers still managed to keep the mystique of Anna in tact. Peaks of her no nonsense ice queen persona on display during a few tense planning meetings were particularly riveting.
As the costume institute curator Andrew Bolton was tasked with addressing the aforementioned issues of validating fashion as art while also carefully presenting a grand exhibit which was both detailed and respectful of Chinese culture and fashion. Through a myriad of scenes he and his staff complete whirlwind promotional tours, planning meetings, press junkets, grapple with timing issues, fuss with set changes, and tackle funding concerns. Fixed securely at the helm Bolton seemed to maintain his cool throughout it all with an end result of sheer perfection. His passion and dedication to the costume institute shown through brighter than any other person involved in the production. His tireless commitment to the project brought both smiles and tears to my eyes.
The film was particularly important to Tailcoat Times because showcasing diversity in fashion is one of our key missions. It was eye opening to see the issues of cultural appropriation on a global scale. The idea of misrepresenting or mocking Chinese culture is not often addressed in America. The Met Ball committee took the time to not only bring on board international film maker Kar-Wai Wong as a key consultant/adviser but they also traveled to China to conduct press interviews and sit down meetings with key players in the world of fashion and art. During these sessions they responded to concerned investors, critics and the public as a whole about their intentions in presenting China: Through the looking glass as a gala and ongoing public exhibit. The feedback Anna and Andrew received mainly focused on ensuring the final product was respectful and accurate. There were also numerous inquiries about why the exhibit was focused so heavily on the historical past and not the current fashion of China.
Of course there were many cameos and side interviews with a few fan favorites including iconic designers: Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier. There were also scenes that including footage of Rihanna rehearsing (she was also the guest performer for the event) a secret discussion about her astronomical booking fee and red carpet interviews with a few of the celebrities who attended the star studded ball. A scene with our most favorite and beloved fashion photographer Bill Cunningham also set our hearts a flutter. To the surprise of many Beyonce, who wore a sheer gown gown designed by Givenchy, was not mentioned at all during the film with the exception of a brief glimpse of her ascending the met steps.
If you see the film only to gawk at John Galliano's most recent nip and tuck or marvel at Anna Wintour's ability to be both charming and cutting in the same moment, your time and ticket are well spent. Those looking for a deeper view inside the Met ball planning process will appreciate the power plays, business acumen and overall grind of a global fashion force.
In the end the 120 Piece exhibit speaks for itself. A collection of exquisite, rare and custom made designs were breathtaking and certainly worth a view through the looking glass.
The question still remains when does a presentation go from cultural appreciation to appropriation? Did you see it? Tell us what you thought in the comment section below.