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Costume Institute Focuses on American Style

Costume Institute's spring exhibit will be “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity."

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NEW YORK — In the past decade, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has traveled to England via “AngloMania”; France with Chanel and Paul Poiret, and pretty much around the globe thanks to superheroes and models. Next spring, it is staying much closer to home with “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity,” which explores the way fashion between 1890 and 1940 contributed to the evolving identity and perception of American women.

Scheduled from May 5 to Aug. 15, the show will mark the first Costume Institute exhibit based on the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection that was transferred to the Met last January.

“I was looking through the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, and thinking about developing a concept around the holdings,” said Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, who is organizing the exhibit with the help of curator in charge Harold Koda. “What I found really compelling around the collection was that there were clothes that to me epitomized these archetypes of American femininity that you have read about in novels and seen in paintings and photographs.”

The show, to be located in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall on the museum’s second floor, will feature about 75 pieces from designers such as Travis Banton, Callot Soeurs, Elizabeth Hawes, Madame Grès, Charles James, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Valentina, Jean-Philippe Worth and Charles Frederick Worth. The exhibit will touch on themes ranging from “The Heiress” to “Gibson Girls,” “Bohemian,” “Suffragist,” “Flappers” and “Screen Sirens.”

“The story of the American woman is really a story of the power of fashion to shape and define identity,” Bolton said. “That is one of the main ideas of the exhibitions.”

Koda said the show was also a way to celebrate the partnership with the Brooklyn Museum, and the fact that “they have the confidence that we are the appropriate partner for this collection. It was an appropriate thing to do to focus exclusively on their pieces.”

The exhibit will be underwritten by Gap, with additional support from Condé Nast. It will kick off with the annual Costume Institute Gala Benefit on May 3, and the co-chairs will be Oprah Winfrey, Gap designer Patrick Robinson and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour.

“The theme of the exhibit is just such a natural fit for us,” said Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America. “It’s a great way to see the influence of fashion through all the different generations and styles.”

At the same time, the Brooklyn Museum will stage “American Style: Fashioning a National Collection,” which will feature pieces by the likes of Charles James, Norman Norrell and Jeanne Paquin that once belonged to women such as Lauren Bacall and Millicent Rogers. It will run from May 7 to Aug 1.

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