News & Politics

Digit Goes to the Museum


When I see a bank of computers in a museum, I reach for my pistol. The last things I want to encounter when I am in the hallowed confines of a gallery—which is not very often—are a screen and a mouse. But here is a row of glowing Dells smack in the center of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, right in front of the circa-1976 Yves Saint Laurent Russian-peasant outfit, just waiting for some passerby with itchy fingers to type his or her inane comments into the infernal machine.

OK, so maybe I’m not the best customer for “blog.mode:addressing fashion,” which invites the public “to share their reactions via a blog on the Museum’s website.” At the opening party, everyone except me is, at least on the record, wildly enthusiastic about this blogging business. Andrew Bolton, who curated the exhibit, says he looked at a bunch of fashion blogs, including the brilliant Sartorialist and the one written by the wonderful Diane Pernet, who wears a headdress that makes her look like a 19th-century Spanish widow (crazier than me!), and he got really excited. Bolton says he thinks that maybe he and co-curator Harold Koda are perhaps a little too monolithic in their approach to fashion, concentrating hard on craftsmanship and artistry. Why not hear from other voices, other rooms? After all, he tells me, “everyone’s opinion is valid.”

Ya think? It’s difficult for a communist like me to admit this, but, after standing behind visitors at the Costume Institute over the years and being the unwitting recipient of their comments—frequently on the order of “My mother threw out something just like that!” or “That would make me look fat!”—I am ashamed to say that when it comes to fashion commentary, some opinions are more valid than others. (Actually, I’ve long been in favor of a no-talking rule in museums, except for the restaurant and gift shop.)

But as it turns out, not only am I a total curmudgeon, I stand alone in my grumpiness. Sandy Schreier, who lives in Detroit, favors big jewelry and is quite the legend in fashion circles (she has a personal antique-clothing collection so impressive that the Met is salivating to get its hands on it), tells me she loves the computers. “It’s the 21st century!” she says. “What a way to go—1858 to the present, and then into the future!” When I suggest churlishly that maybe people will write really mean, catty insults on the blog, Schreier just smiles and says, “So far I think it’s been only nice and wonderful things.”

Lots of ensembles in the exhibit, which showcases the Costume Institute’s newest acquisitions, are from acknowledged masters dead or alive (Worth, Geoffrey Beene, Gaultier, etc.)—so it’s fun to run into the Mulleavy sisters, who live in Northern California (with their parents, believe it or not) and are such talented couturieres that even though they are still incredibly young they have a dress in the show. Their label, Rodarte, features fluttery chiffon, exquisite details, and prices in the $10,000 range. Tonight, several of their clients are flitting around the exhibit wearing Rodarte Greek-goddess numbers, but Kate Mulleavy is clad in a sensible black top and trousers. She, too, claims that she loves this blog idea. “It’s really cool,” she says. “It’s a different voice in the space. I mean, when you’re creating fashion, garment-making and technology go hand in hand.”

Even Mark Walsh, another phenomenal costume collector (he can turn up a Poiret parasol at a car boot sale in Tuscaloosa) and a fellow I’ve known for 100 years and who is usually as cynical and sour as I am, says, “I think it’s so genius! The general public gets a chance to comment on all these things—they’re not exposed to this exotica! You want to hear their comments. What would someone say about a
$300,000 deconstructed Galliano dress?”

Gee, I don’t know, that it’s kind of nutty and appealing and unwearable? What would I say if I were blogging about it? (Actually I’m sort of blogging right now, but never mind.) I guess I’d want to say that $300,000 is a lot of money, especially these days. Then I might add that I remember the Comme des Garçons plaid dress at the entrance of the exhibit—the museum wall text says it “plays with the promise of the tartan as draped cloth”—when it was on super markdown at Century 21 last spring. And then I might admit that if there’s one person on earth, now that Isabel Blow has passed on, who would don the cork Chinese-village Philip Treacy hat on exhibit—it makes the wearer look like a cross between a diorama and a tacky lamp—that person is me. And I might add that the incredible 1920s Parisian fetish boots are maybe the most desirable items in the show. (I’d take them over the 1910 Austro-Hungarian gown with the 24-karat lined beads any day.) But no, wait! Maybe I’d prefer the famous frock coat by Miguel Adrover, who is not in business anymore (at one of his last shows, a goat fell off the catwalk), that he fashioned from the late Quentin Crisp’s mattress.

My imaginary blogging is interrupted by the appearance of my friend Shannon Bell-Price, who works at the Costume Institute and is helping a guy at a computer who wants to weigh in about a Nancy Gonzalez handbag or some such thing. No can do, she tells him, explaining that the Met blog features only one or two items a day, and those are the things you are supposed to rant about. When I tell Bell-Price, who is covered with tattoos practically everywhere except her face and is wearing a Yohji dress she bought secondhand in Tokyo and a pair of Dries shoes from eBay, how stupid I think that rule is and how I think you should be able to talk about anything you want, she replies, “But Lynn, if we put everything up right away then it’s not a blog, it’s just a website. This is a way to get people to come back. The other way it’s not teasing enough, not sexy enough. No other costume department has done this! We’re just trying to have a little fun! Don’t take it too seriously.”

Fun? I make my way up to the Temple of Dendur, circa–15 B.C., where there are crab cakes and mini pizzas and a full bar (now this is fun!), and run into Bill Cunningham, the legendary New York Times street fashion photographer and a man for whom I have unqualified respect and not just because he (very) infrequently runs my picture on his page.

Bell-Price comes over and Cunningham is unstinting in his admiration for her Yohji and her tats. “Kids like you remind me of the old days of the Costume Institute party, when all the kids could come!” he tells her, shaking his head sadly at what that annual spring soiree has become: a super-exclusive showcase for A-list celebrities and glamour pusses, with no after-party for the drag queens, punks, harijuki girls, dandies, and other assorted fashion freaks who used to flood the museum when the official dinner was over and really liven the place up.

Maybe it was too lively. In any case, the beloved after-party was canceled several years ago, which is very sad, but then it occurs to me: The party of the year may be too hoity-toity for the young and the restless, but at least these days they can get their revenge by blogging about it.

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