“Fashion can create a dream, can create a fantasy, but there might be some questions about whether fashion belongs in a museum like the Met.”
Anna Wintour, Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief and Condé Nast’s Artistic Director, says this statement in a voiceover as the opening sequence of the fashion documentary, “The First Monday In May” plays out. The screen shows the red carpet looks of celebrities like Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway and more as they ascend the infamous Metropolitan Museum of Art steps to stop and pose for hundreds of photographers.
While each year, we sit in front of our laptops or televisions watching as celebrities show off their red carpet garments (some according to the year’s Met Gala theme and others not) we never see from our screens what they see when they go inside the museum to the actual exhibit.
“The First Monday in May” gives viewers a visionary look into the behind the scenes action that goes into creating the exhibit for one of fashion’s biggest nights. The viewer gets an insider look while pondering Wintour’s prophetic statement about the predicament posed at the film’s opening.
Focusing on the 2015 Met Gala exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, we follow along with Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, as he reveals to us his plans for an exhibit that tops the one nobody can forget, and for the most understandable of reasons, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.
Savage Beauty was the Met’s exhibit that paid tribute to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 201o. The fashion world mourned the loss of a groundbreaking and incredible talent and the Met’s exhibit truly did justice in honoring this man’s vast career and contribution to the world of fashion.
At the conclusion of the documentary, we learn that the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition did exceed Savage Beauty in drawing more visitors.
Throughout the documentary, viewers get an inside look at what it takes to put on an exhibition of this scale, which doesn’t come without its challenges. With the time ticking until opening, Bolton and his team start to feel the pressure of completing it by the iconic ‘first Monday in May’ deadline. With the large combination of Asian art from the museum and fashion from the Costume Institute, Bolton at one point describes the exhibit as the equivalent of putting on three shows at the same time due to its massive size.
Another challenge that Bolton and his team faced was balancing the lines of the exhibit’s influence and perspective to visitors. Since the exhibit shows Asian-inspired clothing by Western designers, there is a fine line between what is true to traditional Chinese fashion and what is taken as inspiration from Chinese fashion and interpreted from an American designer’s perspective.
The documentary also touched upon the much debated subject of fashion as art. There is often a superficial aura surrounding fashion, which causes some to have a hard time of seeing it as worthy of space in a gallery among traditional art pieces. Seeing all of the exquisite detail and embroidery that goes into these Asian-inspired pieces (and every garment), not to mention the hours of crafting and sewing it takes to make them, there should be no doubt that they are indeed a work of art, though it is indeed a matter of personal perspective.
Without fashion in museums around the world, we as a society would not be able to learn from fashion the things that it teaches us about the world we live in and ourselves. Fashion can give us glimpses of the past and the future, and what better place to go to than a museum in order to remember that?
We are so privileged as a society to have museums all over the world, those on a grand scale like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ones locally, like the Phoenix Art Museum here in Arizona that appreciate fashion and see its importance as an art form. Without the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizonans would have to travel to a big city like New York to be able to visually see the many ways that having fashion in museums contributes to our society. The Phoenix Art Museum is just one of hundreds of museums around the world that serves as a daily reminder that though not everyone sees fashion as museum worthy, those who do celebrate its inspiration and undeniable impact. To all of them and this documentary for bringing it’s value to light, we say, “thank you.”
The First Monday in May is now available for viewing on Netflix.