The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has revealed details of its 2024 spring exhibition, which serves as the inspiration for the theme of the accompanying Met Gala. And while the past three year’s themes have been more straightforward, mining the archives of Karl Lagerfeld’s career, glamour from the Gilded Age, and American fashion broadly, next year’s Met Gala — taking place on Monday, May 6 — will be based on more conceptual reference points around fashion history, nature, technology and the senses.
“Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” will be presented at the Costume Institute in New York from May 10 through September 2, 2024, pulling rare “masterworks” from the Institute’s archive for museumgoers to experience in a new, imaginative way, according to a press release.
Aided by technology including augmented reality, artificial intelligence, X-rays, animations and soundscapes, the installations will reimagine the “smells, sounds, textures and motions” of both historical and iconic contemporary garments — pieces that can no longer be worn after being acquired by the Met. Among the piece on display will be a late 19th-century ball gown from House of Worth, a World War II-era evening dress by Madeleine Vionnet, and archival pieces by Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen.
“When an item of clothing enters our collection, its status is changed irrevocably. What was once a vital part of a person’s lived experience is now a motionless ‘artwork’ that can no longer be worn or heard, touched, or smelled,” said the Institute’s curator Andrew Bolton in a statement. “By appealing to the widest possible range of human senses, the show aims to reconnect with the works on display as they were originally intended — with vibrancy, with dynamism, and ultimately with life.”
The exhibition’s pieces will all be united through their connections to the natural world, exploring “rebirth and renewal,” according to the release. Gallery spaces will be transformed accordingly — flora and insects from Elizabethan-era embroidery appearing on the walls of one room, while the floors of another will come alive with animated snakes inspired by the neckline of an early 20th-century sequined frock.
Garments too fragile to be dressed on mannequins will be displayed instead as the titular “sleeping beauties,” appearing in coffin-like glass displays with microscopes available to observe their deterioration up close, according to the Institute. In those cases, an illusory projection technique known as “Pepper’s ghost” — often used in theater — will show viewers what the fashions looked like in their prime.
But how will celebrities interpret a more abstract, nuanced theme on the Met Gala’s red carpet — especially one that focuses on garments that one can no longer wear? Guests might take inspiration from historical gowns, reinterpreting them in a new way. Perhaps some will lean into technology — think Karolina Kurkova’s Marchesa gown in 2016, which featured LED lighting that responded to social media posts — or the idea of transformation, such as Blake Lively’s dramatic Statue of Liberty-inspired gown from 2022, an extravagant Ralph Lauren design that unfurled from bronze to a green patina.
Whatever the case, if celebrities do go digging through the archives to bring an iconic “sleeping beauty” back into fashion, hopefully the pieces they choose will be treated with as much care as the spirit of the exhibition.
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