Designers Turn Up for ‘Sleeping Beauties’ Media Preview at The Met

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A strong showing of designers turned up at Monday morning’s media preview of the Costume Institute’s “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Amid the 400-person crowd were Joseph Altuzarra, Thom Browne, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Phillip Lim, Stephen Jones, Felix Chabluk Smith, Olivia Cheng, and Richard Malone, among others. All of the above have pieces in the 220-piece show, which spans from the 17th century to 2024. Before attendees roamed through the multisensory exhibition, they heard from The Met’s director and chief executive officer Max Hollein and OpenAI’s chief technology officer Mira Murati.

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The Costume Institute’s Wendy Yu chief curator in charge Andrew Bolton emphasized that “fashion is a living art form that requires most of our senses for its fullest appreciation, and greatest understanding. Unlike painting, which requires only the sense of sight for its enjoyment, fashion elicits the senses of touch, smell, hearing, and sometimes even taste.”

Another attendee was Showstudio’s Nick Knight, who served as creative consultant for the exhibition and orchestrated the more mesmerizing digital imagery such as an AI-enhanced “Pepper’s ghost” of the long-forgotten 1920s hobble skirt. As its name suggests, the garment’s narrow hemline hindered the wearer’s strides.

While some guests lingered in the Charles Engelhard Court, Smith photographed his stylish mother Jean, who offered cheerfully, “I’m his plus one.”

His contribution to the exhibition is a deconstructivist jacket inspired by Anna Maria Garthwaite that he had designed for his final collection in 2013 while earning his master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Despite not winning any prizes at a graduate fashion competition in Trieste, Italy, Smith’s work was admired by Bolton’s predecessor Harold Koda, who congratulated him for his collection and said The Met would be in touch. Representatives from its acquisition team did just that and bought a few pieces since Smith has been inspired by many of the works in The Met’s collection.

No longer designing on his own, Smith works full-time at Balenciaga. “I think you never stop learning throughout your life. It’s a fascinating place to work. I love working there right now and it’s a really good place to learn the ropes, for sure. It’s the best place to work in the industry. There are no limits there.”

His mother’s pride was neatly tucked away — she had stealthily folded their seating cards in the interior pocket of her chicly oversized Balenciaga coat that her son had designed. In New York for the media preview, Smith said good-naturedly, “I wasn’t expecting an invite to the gala, especially after seeing the ticket prices this year [$75,000 a pop and $350,000 for a table]. No, I will leave that space for someone who has deeper pockets than me.”

Felix Chabluk Smith and his mother in front of his 2013 design.
Felix Chabluk Smith and his mother Jean in front of his 2013 design.

Over near “the touch wall” in the exhibition, Jones rubbed the scented wallpaper to get a whiff of a scent extracted from a garment. The milliner, who was “pleased as punch” to see a hat he designed 15 years ago for John Galliano on view, gave the exhibition’s multisensory elements high marks. “Because that’s how we experience clothes — what it feels like, what it smells like and everything. But when you see a fashion show you just see it visually,” Jones said. “This makes it more personal. I think it’s a great way to go.”

The fact that the galleries were bottlenecked with people was encouraging to Jones. “It’s quite interesting that people are stopping to pause in a way that they wouldn’t do so before,” Jones said. “It changes the experience. Maybe people will spend time really looking at exhibitions.”

He described how he recently had done some research at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, where he noticed a 1950s reference to art openings being called “the sherry snatchers,” because people used to just come in to have a drink without looking at the art.” Jones continued, “Maybe this show will work in the opposite way that people will actually come to see this exhibition as an artisan experience and not just something which looks pretty.”

Lim said later in the day via e-mail that the algae sequin dress that he made with Charlotte McCurdy, a carbon neutral-minded designer, was an experiment “to reimagine how we collaborate with our natural world.” He added, “On a personal level, to have my immigrant surname inducted into this revered American institution, is the best way to honor AANHPI Heritage Month.”

While Upper East Side traffic was slow near The Met Monday morning, a pro-Palestine protest at Hunter College’s main campus caused another disruption. By Monday afternoon, school officials had moved classes at the main campus to fully remote from 3 p.m. on. A Hunter spokesman said, “We made this decision out of an abundance of caution.”

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