China through the looking-glass, or fashion’s beady and greedy eyed glare at Chinese inspirations. I have a limited experience with exhibitions inspired by clothing, my strongest memories are of old V&A exhibits of the Supremes glittery gowns and later, of the japanese imperial family’s most treasured kimono, and more recently retrospectives on John Galliano and Dries Van Noten (in the Parisian Des Beaux-Arts and it was amazing) but this was something else. For starters, the sheer scale of the exhibit, three floors, each corresponding to a different element of either chinese history or a type of garment, the entire thing was larger than Ireland’s national gallery! Then there is the range and beauty of what was on display.
Leaving aside the obvious contributions from fashion houses such as Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Dries Van Noten, Hermes, Chanel, Valentino and many more, there was also an extensive array of artefacts. Scattered throughout were pieces of pottery, the famous indigo blue scenes of the countryside, that, no doubt, are in most grandmother’s homes. There were also intricate metal and wooden objects, laying beside garments, indicating the various designers inspirations. Later on there were walls covered in ancient calligraphy, delicate 1920’s perfume bottles and posters of the early communist China. My favourite addition was on the lowest floor, housing garments inspired by an imperial China, filled with traditional chinese dress and large screens showing films that were also inspired by this era.
There was even a section dedicated to chinese film, detailing what was worn, and displaying those same outfits nearby. Overall the exhibit was a masterpiece, and held just as much worth for myself (fashion obsessed) as for my mum (along for the fun of it all). If you are in New York before September 8th (exhibition closes on the seventh) I really recommend that you see it. The rest of the museum is just as amazing: sketches by Degas, paintings by Van Gough, and the most comprehensive collection of works by 20th Century artists.