Photographs courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photography courtesy © Platon.
The country has long had an influence on world culture, from export porcelain to scroll paintings, from fans and robes to regional foods, from jade to the Peking Opera.
But in today’s global market, that influence is being felt even more keenly, particularly on the world of fashion. So much so that Anna Wintour and The Met have taken note.
“China: Through the Looking Glass,” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center May 7 through Aug. 16, promises to be one of the season’s blockbusters, as the museum celebrates the centennial of its Department of Asian Art with a showcase of more than 130 examples of clothing, paintings, porcelain and films that spills into its Chinese galleries.
“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia and make-believe,” Andrew Bolton, curator for The Costume Institute, said in a statement.
A portion of the exhibit will demonstrate how Chinese artwork and clothing use mythical animals, such as the dragon, as both decorative elements and reflections on the culture’s spirituality.
The dragon, a variation of the serpent, is closely associated with China, representing masculinity, power and luck. Dragons were traditionally depicted on imperial robes, as emperors were considered their direct descendants. As a country heavily reliant on agriculture, China has also revered the dragon in its capacity as a rainmaker. Each of its features — from its flashing eyes to its scaly tail to its chameleon-like ability — not only suggests elements of its power but has afforded designers like Roberto Cavalli, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino the opportunity to create either colorful or sinuous designs that accentuate the female body.
These creations are among the works that will be featured in a series of “mirrored reflections” on Imperial China; the Republic of China — especially Shanghai in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s — and the People’s Republic of China, all housed in the Wintour Center. Enhancing the reflections will be scenes from the films of Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Westchester’s Ang Lee and exhibit artistic director Wong Kar Wai, along with tributes to the styles of Oeu Huilan, the former Mme. Wellington Koo; Soong May-Ling, Mme. Chiang Kai-shek; and Empress Dowager Cixi.
Above the center, the second-floor Chinese galleries will present fashion from the 1700s to the present against a backdrop of decorative arts from Imperial China, including jade, lacquer, cloisonné and blue-and-white porcelain. The Astor Court, with its Ming Dynasty furnishings, will have a vignette dedicated to Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang, who inspired John Galliano’s spring 2003 Christian Dior haute couture collection.
The exhibit marks the first collaboration between The Costume Institute and another curatorial department since 2006 when it teamed with the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts for “AngloMania.”
Said Met Director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell, another Westchesterite: “I am excited about the partnership between these two forward-thinking departments, which will undoubtedly reveal provocative new insights into the West’s fascination with China.”
“China: Through the Looking Glass” will have a number of related programs, including an inaugural concert by pianist Lang Lang May 14. For more, visit metmuseum.org/ChinaLookingGlass.