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This Year’s Met Gala Theme Is A Real Puzzle


Next year’s Met Gala and the Costume Institute’s spring 2020 exhibition has a theme and it is… a real brain teaser, one I personally have not managed to fully unpack. So we will do that together: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced “About Time: Fashion and Duration” as its spring exhibition, purportedly a take on philosopher Henri Bergson’s “concept of la durée—time that flows, accumulates, and is indivisible.” According to a press release, “the exhibition will explore how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate the past, present, and future.”

Which is to say, how fashion builds on itself while also looping back on and recycling old trends. I think? It is difficult for me to conceive of what 150 years of chic organized (reorganized?) along a “disruptive timeline” looks like. Are we talking time travel? Like an Outlander situation that has us shuttling back and forth between different presents, one in which Rihanna is the Pope and another in which she is the sun? No, actually, more like an Orlando situation, as in the Virginia Woolf novel, and/or Sally Potter’s 1992 cinematic interpretation thereof.

“There’s a wonderful scene in which Tilda Swinton enters the maze in an 18th century woman’s robe à la Francaise, and as she runs through it her clothes change to mid-19th century dress, and she re-emerges in 1850s England,” Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, told Vogue. “That’s where the original idea came from.”

That’s it! That’s the theme: A “nuanced and open-ended … reimagining of fashion history that’s fragmented, discontinuous, and heterogeneous,” according to Bolton. Or, as he elaborated it in his statement: “Fashion is indelibly connected to time. It not only reflects and represents the spirit of the times, but it also changes and develops with the times, serving as an especially sensitive and accurate timepiece. Through a series of chronologies, the exhibition will use the concept of duration to analyze the temporal twists and turns of fashion history.” Is this becoming clearer to you? Are you getting it? Am I?

Listen, what I can tell you for sure is that the Costume Institute will pull and display 160 women’s fashion items, dating back to 1870, the Met’s birth year. Mostly, these will be black ensembles, offset by white outfits, all of which “relate to one another through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration,” if not necessarily through clear chronology. Two examples from the press release, to help you wrap your brain around this: “A black silk faille princess-line dress from the late 1870s will be paired with an Alexander McQueen ‘Bumster’ skirt from 1995, and a black silk velvet bustle ensemble from the mid-1880s will be juxtaposed with a Comme des Garçons ‘Body Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body’ dress from 1997.”

Met Gala 2020 is brought to you by Condé Nast, as ever, and Louis Vuitton. It will be hosted by co-chairs Nicolas Ghesquière, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, and Anna Wintour. Also, as a very special treat, Virginia Woolf — nearly 79 years dead — will serve as your “ghost narrator.” Michael Cunningham, who based his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours on Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, will also riff on this theme in the form of a new short story to run in the exhibition catalogue, so really, a lot going on. But bottom line: The theme is time, and this will be my outfit. I assume this one will be taken.

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