Our World

In America - A Lexicon of Fashion


Last fall, I was thrilled to receive tickets for the 75th Anniversary Costume Institute exhibition at the Met, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, during a short visit to New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a yearly exhibition curated by the Costume Institute and Vogue magazine centred around fashion and art with The Met Gala being the launch event for the exhibition. The shows concept was focused on the re-centre of emotion in America, and the reframing of American style while spotlighting the creativity and talent of many diverse emerging designers which included more than 40% of designers of colour, a higher proportion than in any previous year along with many designers having their garments displayed in the Met for the first time.

Photo by Nicole Webster

“The approach of this exhibition very much came out of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Andrew Bolton, the head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. “American fashion is undergoing a renaissance that is being driven by engagement with political and social issues. Young fashion designers in America, as in Britain, are at the forefront of conversations about inclusivity around race and gender and the body. When you talk to them about their ambitions, it’s not about jobs at the big European houses or being the next Ralph Lauren or Diane Von Furstenberg. They approach fashion in an ethical way which is rooted in values and community.”

The exhibit opens with a quote from Jesse Jackson’s speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention: “America is not like a blanket—one piece of unbroken cloth, the same colour, the same texture, the same size,” it reads. “America is more like a quilt—many patches, many pieces, many colours, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.”

SC103 'Gratitude' Ensemble, autumn/winter 2021-22. Photo by Nicole Webster

Eckhaus Latta 'Admiration' Ensemble, autumn/winter 2015-16. Photo by Nicole Webster

Rodarte 'Ebullience' Dress, autumn/winter 2019-20. Photo by Nicole Webster

The show was arranged not by decade, trend or artist but by emotion where each design wore a headpiece created by Stephen Jones calling out a specific feeling related to the garment. Bolton grouped designs together under 12 different emotions: Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort and Consciousness. Each of the 100 garments included in the show were encased in white lit boxes and organized in rows forming a portrait of American design from the 1940s to the present. The way the clean, soft light was cast onto each garment highlighting the exquisite craftsmanship, luxury textiles, incredible details and colour defines the vocabulary of modern American fashion. The juxtaposition between the historical pieces and contemporary mixed with modern lit boxes and traditional environment of the museum was so beautifully done.

The story this exhibition tells is an elegant one, and I loved every minute of it.

Lavie by Claude Kameni 'Vitality' Dress, 2021. Photo by Nicole Webster

Christopher John Rogers 'Exuberance' Dress, fall 2020. Photo by Nicole Webster

Vaquera 'Naïveté' Boa, spring/summer 2021. Photo by Nicole Webster

Marc Jacobs 'Wonder' Dress, spring/summer 2019. Photo by Nicole Webster

Tory Burch 'Ease' Ensemble, spring/summer 2018. Photo by Nicole Webster

Donna Karan 'Conviction' Ensemble, autumn/winter 1985-86. Photo by Nicole Webster

Thom Browne 'Discipline' Ensembles, 2018. Photo by Nicole Webster

Tom Ford 'Seductiveness' Dress, spring/summer 2018. Photo by Nicole Webster

Zero & Maria Corne Jo 'Suppleness' Ensemble, autumn/winter 2016-17. Photo by Nicole Webster

No Sesso 'Reverie' Ensemble, autumn/winter 2017-18. Photo by Nicole Webster