‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’ is coming to The Met

‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’ is coming to The Met

The first of a two-part, year-long extravaganza, ‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’ ​​​​​​ is organised into 12 sections that seek to define the emotional qualities in American style

While the past themes covered by The Met museum’s Costume Institute shows have ranged from the fantastical to the esoteric, this year’s deep dive into fashion in America not only felt timely, but necessary as well. American fashion has long been seen as more commercial and practically minded than its European counterparts, but the exhibition ‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’ proves that fantasy and emotion are well-established qualities in fashion on this side of the pond too.

The first of a two-part, year-long extravaganza, ‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’ opens with a display of 100 garments dating from 1940 to the present day, set in an installation design inspired by a patchwork quilt. Referencing an 1856 quilt in the museum’s American Wing created by Adeline Harris Sears featuring white silk diamond-shaped squares signed by some of the most famous Americans of the period, the exhibition is composed of white scrimmed cases – a three-dimensional patchwork quilt – each containing a specimen of American fashion history.

Organised into 12 sections that seek to define the emotional qualities in American fashion, such as Nostalgia, Belonging, Joy and Strength, each exhibit is accompanied by a headpiece designed by Stephen Jones featuring a word summing up a corresponding sentiment, thus forming a comprehensive visual dictionary. Most notably, the showcase features a wide range of designers, both past and present, of different ages, backgrounds, cultures and genders that captures just how colourful American culture is.

‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’: defining the style of the USA

 A Lexicon of American Fashion installation view

 A Lexicon of American Fashion installation view
Top, installation view, Assurance. Bottom, installation view, ComfortImages: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

‘American fashion has traditionally been described through the language of sportswear and ready-to-wear, emphasising principles of simplicity, practicality, functionality, and egalitarianism,’ explains the Costume Institute’s head curator Andrew Bolton. ‘Generally denied the emotional rhetoric applied to European fashion, American fashion has evolved a vernacular that tends to sit in direct opposition to that of the haute couture. Part One of “In America” addresses this linguistic imbalance by presenting a revised vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities.’

Adds The Met’s director Max Hollein: ‘Objects by established designers are set alongside emerging talents, whose designs comprise more than 70 per cent of the works in the exhibition, most appearing in our galleries for the very first time. The exhibition brings to life how designers in the United States today focus more on emotion than on [the] practicality that we find in the work of previous generations, rekindling a renaissance of American fashion by taking on social, religious and philosophical issues to move fashion culture towards greater plurality and diversity.’ 

The recognition of being included in such a seminal showcase by such a storied institution was not lost on the show’s participants. Throughout the press preview for ‘In America: A Lexicon of American Fashion’, designers young and old, emerging and established, could be heard exclaiming and professing their disbelief at having their creations on view – a testament to the uplifting effect that inclusion and acknowledgement can have.

From Andre Walker’s Pendelton wool coat (Comfort) to buoyant gowns by 2021 Wallpaper* Design Awards judge Christopher John Rogers (Exuberance), along with Vaquera (Naivete), a 1989 black wool jersey gown by Geoffrey Beene (Grace), and 1986 beaded dresses by Patrick Kelly (Joy), plus patchwork creations in denim by Heron Preston (Yearning) and in antique quilts by Bode (Togetherness), the show is a true celebration of creative expression in America and how far its reach can be. §


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