Thursday, May 7, 2009

Model As Muse Preview

After the glitz and glamour of the gala were gone, the Costume Institute's Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion opened for a member preview today. Incorporating photographs, magazine spreads, authentic costume pieces, a little paint, music and film, Model As Muse creates an informative chronology of the influence of models on fashion design in the last half-century.

I was greeted by the outstretched arms of a mannequin version of the famous Avedon photgraph with Dovima and two Elephants. Black-and-white photographs lead up to the actual Avedon print, which hangs at the end of the first corridor. Turn the corner, and you find early Vogue and Bazaar spreads beneath mannequins wearing Charles James on the right and Balenciaga and Dior day suits on the left. The dresses are set against an enlarged Cecil Beaton for Vogue photograph, while the suits supersede footage from Funny Face projected on the wall, that seems to coincide at times with music that fills the space.

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Against a photo of the Cabine of Christian Dior, mannequins wore deconstructed gowns by John Galliano. Styled by Julien d’Ys, the mannequins with just one eye and eyebrow painted on were my favorites of all.

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The exhibit continues through the decades to the sixties with a colorful lava-lamp motif undulating on the walls and reflecting off costumes from Qui etes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, a fashion-industry satire about a 20-year-old Brooklyn born model in Paris, while a clip plays on the wall. More mannequins represent fashions portrayed in magazine spreads at their feet, featuring the influential models like Twiggy and Donyale Luna (Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian Dress among them).

It was around the next corner in the eighties that I happened upon a tour by none other than Kohle Yohannan, co-curator of the exhibition (with Costume Institute chief Harold Koda)! As I looked over Vogue covers of Renee Russo, Iman, and Brooke Shields (whose Calvin Klein jeans are displayed at the end of that corridor), Yohannan spoke of the controversy that arose from modeling and the beauty industry. He said, "fashion magazines are often criticized for championing the very ideas women have fought for," namely independence, success and even sexuality.

We continued to the late-eighties, early-nineties, where a gang war portrayed the tension between high/low street culture when the supermodel reached the height of her power. Designers either embraced supermodels like Linda Evangelista, Christie Turlington and Naomi Campbell; or they resisted for fear of being overshadowed.

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The grunge movement was a direct reaction to the ideal of perfect supermodels, favoring girls with unusual, even sickly looks; beautiful nonetheless, but the term heroine-chic refers to the models of this time. Julien d’Ys brought the room to life with silver graffiti on the walls, while Nirvana played over the speakers.

As the fame of the supermodels themselves threatened to eclipse the industry that created them, Yohannan said, designers began to create more minimalist pieces, thereby selecting more homogeneous models over the standouts that came before.

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Model As Muse comes to an end with big Dior by Galliano gowns and Louis Vuitton's nurses by Marc Jacobs in collaboration with Richard Prince, my single most favorite pieces because of their reference to contemporary art (which I saw last year at the Guggenheim). The postscript posits that though we have recently seen a few larger-than-life style and fashion icons like Victoria Beckham, the era of the supermodel has ended (with the exception of Gisele Bundchen).

Related References/Links:

New York Times review of Model As Muse

NY Mag has a great slideshow.

...and coincidentally, I came across this feature of Yohannan's remarkable and exquisite home from last year's NY Mag Interior design issue (this year's ran this week).

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