The Costume Institute’s latest exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum is “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion,” sponsored by Marc Jacobs. The outlandish exhibition captures the evolution of fashion models from the last half of the 20th century while also delving into fashion photography, clothing, and the ways that the best models defined and inspired their respective generations–from the postwar resurgence of American fashion led by the sophisticated glamour of Dorian Leigh to the ’90s skin-and-bones heroin chic of Kate Moss, and beyond. The exhibition features about 70 masterworks of haute couture and ready-to-wear through video footage, photography, and advertising. The show begins today, and below, Voice editors Eudie Pak, Araceli Cruz, and Stacey Anderson pick out some of the highlights in each section of the exhibition.
The Body Politic
The actual size of the hall that pays homage to models from the ’70s and ’80s leaves something to be desired. We were hoping to see more space allocated to additional images and props–not to mention more bell-bottoms, shoulder pads, fingerless gloves, and shoulder baring tops on the mannequins. But at least the room’s rouge hue and dim lights exude an aura of decadence that accurately represents the era. Covers of American and International Vogue, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and Cosmo line the walls. The classic blond bombshells–Christie Brinkley (with her million dollar smile), Cheryl Tiegs and Lauren Hutton (both known for their deep-throated laughter and of course, the latter’s gapped tooth)–capture the era’s optimistic and indomitable spirit. You’ll also discover trailblazers Iman and Beverly Johnson, who put ladies of color on the map. Tragic beauty lays claim here, too–notably with Gia, the symbol of overindulgence, as well as a sweet-faced, almost unrecognizable Janice Dickinson (yes, her first face died but her ego lives on), whose upper lip is visibly peppered with what was then a permissible hint of a mustache. But perhaps the greatest 80s visage was that of Ms. Brooke Shields, a portrait of youthful innocence and budding sex appeal, bushy eyebrows and all. A mannequin at the end of the hall showcases the indelible image of her Calvin Klein ad campaign.–Eudie Pak
Designers and the Supermodels
At the end of the ’70s, when consumers began familiarizing themselves with models such as Lauren Hutton and Beverly Johnson, designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace also became household names. But it wasn’t until the ’90s that the relationship between model and designer heightened them both into gods and goddesses–mainly through their exposure on televised runway shows, MTV, and the like. A 1991 photograph, taken by Peter Lindbergh for Vogue, encompasses the larger-than-life status of these statuesque, curvaceous models like Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Stephanie Seymour, Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer and Amber Valletta . Lindbergh captured these models several times during this decade; but this shoot in particular, set in Brooklyn, had the models in Chanel gowns layered with leather jackets, biker hats and surrounded by motorcycles. Not only does the photograph expose them as a tough gang to be reckoned with–which they were–but the lavish Chanel outfits, designed by Karl Lagerfeld, beautifully blend hard-edged leather with the softness of pastel-colored, floor-length, slit skirts and gold jewelry. Cindy, Linda, Naomi, Christy, Helena and Claudia have been legends ever since. –Araceli Cruz
Who’s laughing now? In 1992, as creative director for prepster line Perry Ellis, Marc Jacobs moshed too hard for elitist fashionistas and was fired for putting a streetwear-inspired line on the runway. That season, in the height of grunge, models cruised his show in cashmere thermals and skull beanies, and the high-gloss style world was stunned by the inversion. Of course, his Cobain couture cost thousands more than the average Aberdeen thrift shop – this is the rag trade, after all – but while his landmark collection initially horrified his peers, he ultimately changed the course of fashion. Today, casual clothes are frequently re-imagined for the high style bracket.
That rocker-chick aesthetic is still prominent on Jacobs’s eponymous high line, as well as in his more affordable diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs. So it’s no surprise that the largest room in his Met exhibition is fondly devoted to his rebel yell era: grunge put him on the fashion map, and it temporarily wiped him from it. Inside the ’90s corridor “Grunge, the Anti-Model, and a Return to Glamour,” dimly lit walls are splashed in raucously post-Basquiat graffiti devoted to the top models of the ’90s – Stella! Kate! Linda!–and a central platform displays the decade’s famously f’ed-up uniform: arm warmers, flannel, sequined mesh dresses (a good majority from Jacobs’s doomed Ellis line, with assists from Anna Sui and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo). The cheap-chic tableau is backed by the music of (who else?) Nirvana and features famous magazine covers and pictorials. One wall tellingly displays two adjacent photos: to the left, a group shot of early-’90s glamazons Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patiz. To the right, Kate Moss, the underage, under-height, androgynous upstart who single-handedly sent them (and women with their slim but attainable size 6 dress sizes) to irrelevant pastures. No wonder they didn’t pose together.
Anyway, even a suavely trashy presentation such as the ‘grunge room’ doesn’t evade the real question: Is a skirt really rock ‘n’ roll if it costs more than two Stratocasters? Doubtful. But Jacobs makes a damn good argument for it, and he’s the only one who could ever could.–Stacey Anderson
The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion opens today at Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, $15-$20. The show runs through August.