Model/Muse: Supermodels at the Met

Fashion and art – always a tenuous link, the artists will say, though designers, fashionistas and the like will think otherwise. The battle rages on..

Now that the Brooklyn Museum has transferred its costume collection to the Met, the Costume Institute expands its holdings with a $3.95m grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Fashion is set to make it’s way into one of the most veritable museums in the country — big time. Starting last week, the Met’s much anticipated (and hyped-about) exhibition, “Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion,” starts the ball rolling.

Take this post as less of a review and more as some compelling thoughts that surfaced post-exhibition. Model as muse — the point is straightforward: certain beauties come to epitomise and inspire the fashions of the epoch. The postwar era/early-fifties brings to mind images of Lee Miller and Lisa Fonssagrives . Body types change. Sixties brings Twiggy and space-age outfits by Courreges and Pierre Cardin, the juxtaposition of Halston(NYC)/YSL(Paris) ; Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein the decade after. The holy trio of Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista. And the late 90s — Kate Moss, Kate Moss, Kate Moss. (I exaggerate – there was also much coverage on “alternative” beauties like Jenny Shimizu, ending with the rise of the neo-ubermodels Gisele Bundchen and Natalia Vodianova.)

The original twelve in a shot by Irving Penn.

The original twelve in a shot by Irving Penn.

And four decades on...

And four decades on...

The exhibition alternated between some truly epic fashion photographs and accompanied by the outfits that the models were portrayed in. The usual suspects from fashion history were on show: Dovima and the elephants by Richard Avedon, the rugged-vampish YSL safari tunic as worn by Verushcka. But there were some new discoveries for me – a sublime, almost ethereal shot of Peggy Moffitt in a topless black jersey swimsuit. (The silver gelatin print is so much better in person, I promise, none of that ridiculous halo surrounding Moffitt.) As much as models wear clothes, clothes take on a different aesthetic dimension when worn by a something other than a mannequin.

Veruschka models YSL, 1968. Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Veruschka models YSL, 1968. Photography by Franco Rubartelli

Peggy Moffitt in a swimsuit by the the American designer Rudi Gernreich, photographed by William Claxton in 1964.

Peggy Moffitt in a swimsuit by the American designer Rudi Gernreich, photographed by William Claxton in 1964.

Also, if the exhibition proved one thing — it was the power of the image. Having seen and re-seen these iconic fashion images, it was almost a little lacklustre seeing the clothes in person. (Sacrilege!, you say?) It is as though clothing and person had become one, and putting that outfit on any other creature would have rendered it so much less poignant.

One last caveat: should we be remembering Richard Avedon, William Claxton, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, etc. as much as we remember these supermodels? Is the making of the image more about the model or the artist? Another exhibition for another time, I suppose.

This neat little retrospective of fashion history was a gem, from the classic to the downright outlandish. (Did I mention that costumes used on the set of the cult classic “Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo” were there — think origami-ed zinc sheets?)

This entry was published on May 14, 2009 at 5:35 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Model/Muse: Supermodels at the Met

  1. Pingback: Fashion’s New Order at Audi Fashion Festival 2009 « THE F-WORD

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