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About Time: Fashion and Duration
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A first look at the most anticipated museum exhibition of the year

The Costume Institute exhibition presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history.

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Written by
Shaye Weaver
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Time has escaped us this year, but The Metropolitan Museum of Art is still marking time, moment by moment, in what is the most-anticipated exhibition of the year.

The Costume Institute's exhibit, "About Time: Fashion and Duration" takes a deep dive into 150 years of fashion history (from 1870 to present day) for the museum's 150th anniversary. The visually stunning show, sponsored by Louis Vuitton, finally opens to the public on Thursday after six months of postponement, further highlighting the exhibition's focus—the passage of time and its linear but cyclical nature.

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During a sneak preview of "About Time" on Monday, we were immediately drawn into the story of fashion across time by the sound of a ticking clock set to dramatic music by Philip Glass and the striking visual of a swinging clock pendulum in the center of the first gallery.

The Met called on actresses Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore (all who starred in The Hours) to recite passages from Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography, about a young noble who time travels by living for more than 300 years but changes gender, finishing life as a modern woman writer. The excerpts are played on a loop through the exhibit.

"We never imagined when we chose the name more than a year ago how apt the title would become," said Max Hollein, the director of The Met. 

About Time: Fashion and Duration
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Each "minute" in the clock room represents a pair of garments—one from our present and one from that past that served as inspiration for the piece.

Right away, this is seen in a silk princess-line dress from the late 1870s and an Alexander McQueen “Bumster” skirt from 1995, and a silk-satin dress with leg-o’-mutton sleeves from the mid-1890s and a Comme des Garçons deconstructed ensemble from 2004. All of the pieces are black so that changes in silhouettes can be seen clearly.

As visitors pass through time and space, they'll see time-inspired designs by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior, Tom Ford, Hubert de Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Norma Kamali, Donna Karan, Helmut Lang, Karl Lagerfeld (for Chanel), Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Viktor & Rolf, Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood, and many more.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art About Time: Fashion and Duration
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

The second gallery is an infinity mirror room, also designed to look like a clock, that highlights the constant passage of time by setting visitors in a space that seemingly continues forever but still marks moments with its garments. The stark contrast of black with the white and mirrored surroundings is not only dramatic but strikingly showcases the beauty and form of each garment.

According to Es Devlin, the exhibit's designer, The Met costume collection could be considered "a dense, 150-year clock of the architecture of the female form."

"One and a half century's worth of garments, each recording delicate calibrations shifts in—a breathing in of the form and expanding out of the form—spikes and dents and dimples and bulges and inhales and exhales of the architecture of the female form," she said.

About Time: Fashion and Duration
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And while it's easy to see the past's impact on present-day fashion, the exhibit also aims to show just how ephemeral fashion is.

"Recently, time has dominated discussions within the fashion community - these conversations centered around the accelerated production circulation and consumption of fashion to meet the demands of an interconnected and digitally synchronized world, but we're realizing demands are having a detrimental effect not only on creativity but the environment," said Andrew Bolton, the exhibit's curator. "We thought it might be a good time to explore the temporal character of fashion from a historical perspective."

 About Time: Fashion and Duration
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The show opens on Thursday, October 29, at The Met Fifth Avenue, 1000 Fifth Ave. and will be on through February 7, 2021. 

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