Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion at The Costume Institute

The Costume Institute’s Fall 2016 exhibition, Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion, will be open at the Anna Wintour Costume Center from 18 November, 2016 to 5 February, 2017, and will feature major couture acquisitions of the past ten years.


The show, put together by Assistant Curator Jessica Regan with the assistance of Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton, will explore how the department has shaped its collecting strategy to amass masterworks of only the highest aesthetic and technical quality, including iconic works by designers who have changed the course of fashion history and advanced fashion as an art form. Bolton said,

‘Our mission is to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art.’



Upper: Dress, Sarah Burton (British, born 1974) for Alexander McQueen (British, founded 1992), spring/summer 2011; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2014 (2015.69) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna- Marie Kellen
Lower: Ensemble, Raf Simons (Belgian, born 1968) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), autumn/winter 2014-15 haute couture; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Christian Dior Couture, in honor of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.256) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna- Marie Kellen


‘Over the seven decades since The Costume Institute became part of The Met in 1946, our collecting strategy has shifted from creating a collection of Western high fashion that is encyclopedic in breadth to one focused on acquiring a body of masterworks.’

– Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge, The Costume Institute
Image: Ball Gown, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2010; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2011 (2011.8) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen


Exhibition Overview

The exhibition will highlight around sixty masterworks primarily in womenswear, and some menswear from the early 18th century to the present, which The Costume Institute has acquired since its last acquisitions show in 2007 called blog.mode: addressing fashion.


The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will be organised chronologically with ensembles shown in packing crates and on palettes, as though they have just arrived at The Met. Each object, including a selection of accessories – will be accompanied by an in-depth explanation of its significance within the history of fashion. Some newly acquired objects will be paired with pieces already in the collection to illustrate the enduring influence of certain master couturiers and iconic historical silhouettes.


A recently acquired John Galliano for Maison Margiela dress from 2015 will be paired with a Cristobal Balenciaga gown from 1964. A Halston evening gown from the 1980s, new to the collection, will be juxtaposed with a Vionnet gown from the 1930s.


Ball Gown, Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856-1926) for House of Worth (French, 1858-1956), 1898; Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1965 (2009.300.1324) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Anna-Marie Kellen


The Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery will feature a selection of the ensembles donated by designers in honor of Harold Koda upon his retirement as Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute in January 2016.


“While fashion is often derided for its ephemerality, its quick responsiveness to change ensures that it is an immediate expression of the spirit of its time—a vivid reflection of social, cultural, and political circumstances, and of shifting ideals of beauty,” said Ms. Regan. “The masterworks we’ve chosen to highlight are among many we have collected in the past decade that draw on forms, motifs, and themes of the past, reinterpreting fashion history in ways that resonate in the present.”


Designers included the exhibition: Azzedine Alaïa, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Geoffrey Beene, Thom Browne, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Antonio del Castillo (Lanvin-Castillo), Hussein Chalayan, Tom Ford, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano (John Galliano and Maison Margiela), Nicolas Ghesquière (Balenciaga), Halston, Charles James, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Karl Lagerfeld (House of Chanel), Jeanne Lanvin, Christian Louboutin, Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Paul Poiret, Zandra Rhodes, Yves Saint Laurent (House of Dior), Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons (House of Dior), Hedi Slimane (Saint Laurent), Noritaka Tatehana, Philip Treacy, Iris van Herpen, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren (Viktor & Rolf), Gianni Versace, Madeleine Vionnet, Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren (Let it Rock), Jean-Philippe Worth (House of Worth), and Yohji Yamamoto.

Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion will be open at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, The Costume Institute from 8 November, 2016 – 5 February, 2017


Need to know:

  • Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion will run at the Anna Wintour Costume Center from 8 November, 2016, to 5 February, 2017. The Anna Winter Costumer Center is a wing of The Met in New York.
  • For more information visit the  museum’s website.


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Pictured at top: Ball Gown, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2010; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2011. All images supplied.

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