Reviving Fashion's Forgotten Treasures: The Met's 2024 "Sleeping Beauties" Exhibit
The legendary Met Gala never fails to dazzle, with its parade of haute couture and celebrity glamor. But behind the scenes, the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses a treasure trove of historic fashion pieces that rarely see the light of day. These fragile “sleeping beauties” will finally get their chance to shine at next year’s Met exhibit, revealing new perspectives on fashion history along the way.
Announced this week, the 2024 theme is “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” It spotlights 250 pieces from the Met’s permanent collection that are too delicate or fragile for standard display. Using innovative techniques like CGI, projections and animations, the exhibit will bring these forgotten gems out of storage and into view. As Met Director Max Hollein says, it will “push the boundaries of our imagination” when it comes to experiencing fashion as an art form.
Spanning over 400 years from the 17th century to today, the featured pieces provide a new lens on the evolution of fashion design. Historic selections include a rare Elizabethan-era bodice from 1600s England, capturing the tailored silhouettes and rich embellishments of its time. The exhibit channels a moonlit forest glade for an 18th century French court gown, projecting tree shadows and birdsong to transport viewers to the past.
Juxtaposed alongside are modern looks clearly inspired by these earlier periods, such as ethereal Alexander McQueen gowns next to old world corsets. Other contemporary pieces include structural creations by Phillip Lim, Stella McCartney and Conner Ives. Curator Andrew Bolton explains that connecting the past and present allows us to appreciate that “fashion is imbued with memory and emotions.”
Beyond the time-travel experience, the exhibit also aims to highlight craftsmanship and preservation. Many of the fragile historical items are literally irreplaceable. This includes intricately beaded flapper dresses, hand-sewn Victorian gowns and feathered headdresses too delicate to withstand another wearing. By digitally rotating and zooming in on details invisible to the naked eye, we can admire the meticulous techniques that brought these fashions to life.
For some sleeping beauties, vibrant digital re-imaginings may be the only way we can continue enjoying their legacy. Projecting moving images onto an empty garment form can breathe new life into a tattered dress whose fabrics have long since faded. Continued preservation is what allows iconic fashion to inspire generations of designers to come.
To connect the pieces through nature’s beauty, the exhibit is divided into three zones: Land, Sea and Sky. The “Land” section features earth tones, patterns inspired by flowers and foliage, voluminous silhouettes mimicking the movement of wind. “Sea” explores the undulating textures and colors of the ocean, with rippling chiffons and beaded surfaces shimmering like scales. Finally, the lightness and freedom of “Sky” is conveyed through cloud-like tulle dresses and wings spreading open like a bird in flight.
By reawakening these delicate beauties, the Met allows us to experience the sensuality and emotion of fashion in new dimensions. Like a mysterious fairy tale forest, it will open our eyes to the untold stories within the threads of history. Even after the gala’s lights fade, the memories of these rediscovered treasures will linger like glimmers of stardust.
“Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” will make its debut on the first Monday in May, which falls on May 6, 2024. The exhibit will open to the public on May 10 and run through Sept. 2, 2024.
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
“Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” Exhibit
May 10, 2024 – September 2, 2024
Get tickets here and learn more here.
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