Thursday, May 6, 2010

American Woman Hype

I'm very excited to see "American Woman" at the Met and "Night & Day" at FIT this weekend, although I'm a little apprehensive about the crowds at the former-- and not only because it's opening weekend. This exhibit has received more hype than any other fashion exhibition I've seen in a long time! Last week's Costume Institute Benefit Gala, frequently called "the party of the year," had (as always) a huge celebrity draw and was co-hosted by none other than Oprah, along with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (who co-hosts the party every year) and Gap's Executive VP for Global Design, Patrick Robinson. According to the exhibit's press release, the Gala is "The Costume Institute's main source of annual funding for exhibitions, operations, and capital improvements." Most curators I know would happily give up an appendage for a source of funding and publicity like that! Since the party's red carpet shots are shown on news, fashion, and society pages everywhere, the public is more aware of The Costume Institute than usual these days, which draws attention to the new exhibit.

In addition, "American Woman" is being sponsored by Gap, who has released a line of embellished t-shirts inspired by each archetype explored by the exhibit (the heiress, the Gibson Girl, the haute bohemian, the suffragist, the patriot, the flapper, and the screen siren). While the t-shirts are cute enough, I personally find them overpriced for how simple they are. I think the suffragist is my favorite, or perhaps the screen siren-- but I'd be much more likely to consider investing if they were $15 or $20 cheaper.

As if that weren't enough, Gap has also coupled with designers Alexander Wang, Rodarte, Sophie Theallet, and Thakoon to create unique gowns that were worn to the Gala by Vera Farmiga, M.I.A., Kirsten Dunst, Kerry Washington, Jessica Alba, Riley Keogh, Zoe Kravitz, and Jamie Bochert (all this comes from the Gap website). The gowns, now displayed in a Gap pop-up store on Fifth and 54th, are being sold in an online silent auction, with the proceeds benefiting the Costume Institute. Bidding opened yesterday and will last until May 31st.

Goodness gracious, what a lot of publicity for a show! Something about it turns me off, although I should, of course, be happy that a fashion exhibit is getting this much attention. I think that between this and Sarah Jessica Parker's narration of the audio guide, I am afraid it's going to be too fluffy and commercial. I had some of the same worries, however, for "The Model as Muse," and I was stunned by how academic and thorough it was. And, as the Gap was founded in 1969, I don't have the same fears about conflict of interest in content as I would if it were, say, a monographic show being sponsored by the living designer whom it was featuring.
I am ready to plunge in and see how the exhibit is!

Has anyone seen it yet? Did you like it? Do you think it will be too fluffy or will it satisfy pop-culture lovers and museum dorks like me alike?

Image by Charles Dana Gibson, undated (c.1903, I think), from the Time/Life image archive


  1. I'm a Gilded Age fanatic, and wish I could have made it to the American Woman exhibition to view the Gibson era pieces. Writing because you have introduced me to the term "tombstone label," which is a very handy thing to have in one's arsenal. :-)


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