About Time: Fashion and Duration

Met Costume Institute

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
The Met Fifth Avenue – Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, Floor 2
New York
Upper East Side
Oct 29th 2020 — Feb 8th 2021

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French philosopher Henri Bergson theorized time (la durée) as intuitive and distinctly unscientific: two spools of thread, one unrolling to represent the passage of a lifespan through time in order to feed the other, rolling up to represent the accumulation of memory. This concept of time stitches together the Met Costume Institute’s “About Time: Fashion and Duration” to map out a history of fashion that is linear as well as cyclical, coiling back within itself to conflate past, present, and future. 

Though ostensibly a fashion show, exhibition design takes center stage: two galleries, constructed to resemble clock faces, are cleaved into increments representing minutes of an hour. At each “minute,” the first item of each pair tells the story of linear time—from the mourning attire of British royalty to the riding jackets that ape menswear to the advent of the little black dress—while the other presents moments that disrupt such a straightforward reading: a 1984 Jean Paul Gaultier dress with conical cups is paired with a 1949 Charles James “Tulip” dress with a similar bust—a “disruptor” that is, in fact, a predecessor. 

Coinciding with its 150-year anniversary and sourced almost entirely from its own collection, “About Time” finds the Met Museum not only excavating the history of fashion but also its own storied past.

Gallery View, 2020. Dress, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2020 haute couture; Courtesy Viktor + Rolf. Headpiece by Shay Ashual in collaboration with Yevgeny Koramblyum. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art