Monday morning’s press preview of “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” underscored how the industry’s future is reliant on young talent.
The orderly crowd that wended through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute caught a hearty dose of work from emerging designers. The up-and-comers contributed more than 70 percent of the works on view, with most appearing in The Met’s galleries “for the very first time,” noted The Met’s director Max Hollein, during his introductory remarks.
Anchored in emotion rather than practicality, this generation of American designers “is rekindling a renaissance of American fashion taking on social, religious and philosophical issues to move fashion and culture to its greater plurality and diversity,” he said.
The show, which officially bows Saturday, is the first installment of a two-part yearlong exhibition that marks the Costume Institute’s 75th anniversary. The show’s youth-driven majority is in line with Instagram, the sponsor of both parts of the exhibition with support from Condé Nast. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri took to the podium to say as much. (Eva Chen, vice president of fashion and shopping, did, too.)
Mosseri said, “You’ll see in this year’s exhibition that a number of young and diverse voices are spotlighted and uplifted. It’s these voices that are defining culture, too. Instagram is a place where people push culture forward, where they come to tell a story and push boundaries and set new norms. People create and they inspire much like they do in the world of fashion and in the world of art…some come because they have a story that they simply must tell. Others have a cause and for many it’s their livelihood.”
Noting how “musicians are finding new ways to reach audiences, athletes are becoming as relevant as teams, actors are building up their own followings, small creative businesses and artisans are finding customers without working with digital channels,” Mosseri noted that organizations like The Met and Instagram are evolving because “we have to if we want to stay relevant. We need to embrace these [cultural and consumerism] shifts particularly to find ways to give a voice to those who have historically not had a voice.”
He said. “The future is young. It’s creative. It’s diverse. You”ll see those ideas in this exhibition, in our guests and our chairs particularly in the fashion this evening [at the Met Gala],” adding that Instagram will be looking for more ways to support fashion and art in the future.
Afterward, Michael Kors, whose designs are featured in the exhibition, praised the youth-infused show. “Listen, I started my business in a one-bedroom apartment on Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street. I delivered the clothes by subway. The can-do spirit of American fashion is certainly alive today. To see so much young talent, new talent getting the spotlight shined so brightly on their work is amazing. It’s wonderful.”
In addition to Kors, Thom Browne, Yeohlee Teng, Heron Preston, Dauphinette’s Olivia Cheng and LavieByCk’s Claude Kameni were among the designers at the preview. Condé Nast’s and the Costume Institute’s namesake Anna Wintour and Alina Cho turned up, too.
About 100 ensembles are encased in glass squares to reflect a patchwork quilt that inspired the exhibition as an emblem of the country’s rich cultural identities. Chromat’s Becca McCharen-Tran, Denim Tears’ Tremaine Emory, Mimi Prober, Rentrayage’s Erin Beatty, Stan’s Tristan Detwiler, Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver, SC103’s Sophie Andes-Gascon and Claire McKinney and KidSuper’s Colm Dillane are among the next wave of designers that are featured in the exhibition beside such stalwarts as Charles James, Geoffrey Beene, Diane von Furstenberg, Norma Kamali, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Yeohlee Teng. After being the exhibit, Teng said, “It felt like the Costume Institute put its arms around our industry.”
Milliner Stephen Jones, who has collaborated with curator Andrew Bolton on multiple Costume Institute exhibitions by designing the headdresses, was on board with the influx of so many young designers. “I think it’s good. I know that Andrew really wanted to represent diversity and to have that diversity, that’s really being expressed by young designers,” he said.
Jones noted that Claire McCardell, Adrian and Norman Norell (designers from 50-plus years ago) were included. That said, working on this year’s exhibition helped him to learn a few things. Namely, “that fashion only makes sense, if it reflects the generation who is wearing it,” Jones said. “When young people are starting to make clothes, I always say to them, ‘Make clothes for your friends or your peers. Don’t make it for some fantasy person because that will be boring. You’re a more interesting person. Your friends are more interesting.’”
Europeans such as himself, in a way are constrained by a certain set of ideals, Jones said. “But when you walk through the streets of New York, you see people being so expressive in their clothing. I went to the Bill Cunningham event that Mark Bozeman did last night. You see people in the streets and the extravagance, interpretation and everything that they do. I think that’s reflected in the designers that you see here today because America is so many different things. Whereas, France tends to be a bit more of one thing. British tends to be more of one thing. America is a hundred times the size of any of those small countries so it has a hundred different influencers. So yeah, diversity is the word of the moment.”
LaviebyCK designer Claude Kameni received an email from The Met a few weeks ago inquiring about a dress that Tracee Ellis Ross had worn while hosting the 2018 American Music Awards. Unable to pull that printed dress, Kameni said it was decided that she “could make that same dress in a different fabric to go with the theme for the event today,” she said. “I had to email my pr. I was like, ‘Hey, The Met just emailed me. We’re going to The Met and my gown is going to be at the museum, which is so amazing.’ I never thought about getting this far in my career so this is a blessing to me.”
On Sunday afternoon, Bolton, curator in charge of The Costume Institute, personally admired the garment Kameni had created in one of The Met’s work rooms. Noting how the dress was inspired by West African textiles, Bolton said, “She flew in from L.A. Saturday night. She was just finishing it. She hand delivered it Sunday morning.”
Asked if she will be attending Monday’s Met Gala, the designer said, “Look at what I’m wearing,” stepping back to show off her strapless printed tea-length dress. “I think I should, right? So hopefully, I do.”