Hollywood A-listers are traditionally in the spotlight ascending the steps of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for its annual Met Gala, set to take place May 2, with Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, Regina King and Lin-Manuel Miranda as co-chairs . But this year the film industry will also step off the red carpet and into the exhibition’s design, with eight directors, including King, crafting tableaux that blend fashion, historic interiors and each filmmaker’s unique aesthetic.
The “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” exhibit, which opens to the public May 7, has been conceived as the companion to “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which opened in 2021. (Both shows will be on view through September.) “‘Lexicon’ focuses more on language and primarily on contemporary designers, the idea of developing a vocabulary around fashion,” explains Andrew Bolton, head curator of the museum’s Costume Institute. “’Anthology’ is really more about storytelling and a historical context, starting with the development of American fashion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the emergence of an identifiable American style and the rise of the name designer.”
King is joined by Martin Scorsese, Sofia Coppola, Tom Ford, Chloé Zhao, Janicza Bravo, Autumn de Wilde and Julie Dash, each of whom has taken over one or more of the American Wing’s Period Rooms to create cinematic vignettes showcasing fashions of various eras . They range from Scorsese’s concept — set in a 20th century living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — to Zhao’s minimalist style in a circa-1835 Shaker retiring room, and King’s tableau in a 19th century parlor from Virginia. “We had our stories, our complex histories of the rooms and the costumes we wanted to place within them, and then we gave directors free rein to reimagine those elements,” says Bolton. (Guests for this year’s Met Gala have been encouraged to dress in “Gilded Glamor and White Tie.”)
Bravo’s vignette, in a circa-1850 Rococo Revival parlor, explores the clothes of Marguery Bolhagen and Elizabeth Hawes, both American designers who achieved success in the mid-20th century, though they’re not as widely known as names like Claire McCardell or Bill Blass (who are also represented in the show).
“It was like going back to my roots and using space, and space first, to create a diorama or tableau vivant of sorts,” says Bravo, director of the 2021 release Zola. “I wanted to see myself in those rooms. I needed to. I am present in both the absurd and solitude.”
Adds Bolton of the show: “The end results are very different from what the curators would have done themselves. Seen through the lens of these particular directors, what’s been created feels quite personal and intimate while also telling the story of American fashion in a wholly unique way.”
This story first appeared in the April 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.