As Winter melts away, fashion lovers everywhere will spring to life, with the first mention of the much-anticipated annual Metropolitan Arts Exhibition happening on the 4th of May. However, this year’s event is particularly special as it’s celebrating 150 years of the museum and the art of displaying fashion itself. Cleverly, this has inspired this year’s theme: “About Time: Fashion and Duration”. Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in charge of the costume institute has explained the thought process behind this as the “reimagining of fashion history that’s fragmented, discontinuous and heterogeneous.”. At first glance, this seems to depart from 2019 “Notes on Camp” and 2018 “Heavenly Bodies” as time pervades everything creating increased scope to allow designers more creative freedom in interpreting such an abstract concept.
We can bet that this theme will definitely challenge the concept of time as Bolton reasons fashion “shows us that there is more to time than what you can count on the hands of your clock”. Vogue notes that Bolton is attempting to show this through exploring contrasting philosophical accounts of time which emphasises the impossibility of pinning it down to one idea. On the one hand, Baudelaire proposes humanity views time as a constant progression and advancement of our own capabilities through industrialisation and technologies. This is the material aspect of time that seems to run our lives. Contrastingly, Bergson presents time as a “continuous flow in which thoughts, feelings and memories exist together”. This encapsulates the idea that the past will always influence the present day and thus it all becomes so interlinked it is difficult to differentiate specific periods from each other. This is where the literary ideas of Virginia Woolf come into play as it draws upon both concepts and thus makes her the “ideal mediator” as Bolton states. She has been frequently talked about as the “ghost narrator” of this theme which suggests that designers can use her work to guide them through their interpretation. This could place time-travel as an influential idea, helping designers navigate both philosophical takes on time.
Looking at “About Time: Fashion and Duration”, it is very difficult to predict the visions designers will have for their celebrity muses but it’s fun to try! Drawing upon Baudelaire’s perspective, designers may choose to take this opportunity to make a social commentary on fast fashion as it relates to the idea that humanity is constantly evolving throughout time with trends we feel obliged to follow. On the other hand, designers may incorporate Bergson’s ideas by showing that today’s fashion is an accumulation of what has come before and thus, fashion can never be defined by its origins which is what makes it so timeless. However, focusing more on Woolf and “Orlando”, designers could be interested in taking a different approach that looks at gender identity being confined by particular time periods throughout history which defined fashion as more of a social construct as opposed to allowing freedom of expression.
“Orlando” by Virginia Woolf, follows a time-travelling protagonist through 18th and 19th century France and 1850s England. Throughout this journey, they change genders from man to woman. Thus, they experience different time periods from different gender perspectives. It has been said that one of the major inspirations for this year’s theme has been the labyrinth scene in the 1992 film adaptation. We see her in 1700s, France running through a maze, away from the male gaze (literally and metaphorically). The elaborate pastel coloured dress and lavish wig is replaced by a dark dress and shawl with natural hair twisted back as she enters 1850s, England. The contrast in fashion styles shows that it is constructed to represent what is socially expected of women within each time period. As Woolf writes in the novel “clothes wear us and not we them”. However, by the end of the film we see that Orlando embraces a more androgynous look which could be challenging the idea Woolf encapsulates as “different though the sexes are, they intermix…clothes…keep the male or female likeness while underneath the sex is very opposite.”. It could be said that Orlando’s fashion choices are rebelling against the societal construct of gender that fashion usually enforces to show that it can be reclaimed for self-expression. Therefore, having these ideas represented through the Met Gala’s theme raises the all-important question: is it possible for gender as a construct to be worn down throughout time to allow fashion to become a tool for revealing the inner self instead?
In summary, it looks like this year’s Met Gala will be such a good one! “About Time: Fashion and Duration” allows for the representation of so many topical issues such as gender identity and whether fashion is really constantly evolving or if it will always be influenced by the past. It will be interesting to see what designers create!
[Eilidh Stewart – she/her – @eilidhstewart0]
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