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How 9 Directors Are Transforming the Met’s Period Rooms for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” CONFLICT OF INTEREST Tom Ford at work at the Met, surrounded by John Vanderlyn’s Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, 1818–19, with dresses by Stephen Burrows, Yves Saint Laurent, and Halston, all from about 1973. Fashion Editor: Tonne Goodman. Sofia Coppola is seated, elbow perched on knee, on the oak steps of the McKim, Mead, and White Stair Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is dressed in crisp Chanel separates, in sharp contrast to the ornately beaded aubergine velvet dress on the mannequin in front of her. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the dresses in the space, not in the workroom,” she says to Annie Leibovitz, who is taking her photograph. Coppola is one of nine directors tasked with transforming 13 period rooms of the museum’s American Wing to display a history of American fashion from the late 18th century to the late 20th century for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” part two of the Costume Institute’s comprehensive survey of American fashion. (In addition to Coppola, the directors include Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Autumn de Wilde, Julie Dash, Tom Ford, Regina King, Martin Scorsese, and Chloé Zhao.) Andrew Bolton—the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at the Costume Institute—paired each director with rooms based on their work. “The idea is to bring the museum to life,” says Coppola, who was assigned the intricately paneled staircase where she’s sitting, along with the adjacent Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, both of which highlight the emergence of New York as the fashion center of the United States during the late 19th century—a natural fit for Coppola, currently at work on adapting Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. “It invites the audience in,” she says of the animated vignettes. “Hopefully you get lost in the moment of each space.”

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De Wilde, meanwhile, was assigned the Baltimore and Benkard Rooms, dating to the same period as her 2020 feature Emma; King will explore themes of race and gender within the work of prominent Black dressmakers in the Richmond Room; Blank will transform the Haverhill Room; Zhao is taking a studied, quiet approach to the Shaker Retiring Room; Ford, an American fashion icon, was a natural fit to tackle the Battle of Versailles in the Vanderlyn Panorama rotunda; Dash will reference film history in the Greek and Renaissance Revival rooms; Bravo has drawn on her early background in production design for her work in the Rococo Revival Parlor and Gothic Revival Library; and Scorsese seemed best-suited to showcase Charles James in the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright Room. RENASISSANCE WOMAN “I want everything to be alive,” says Julie Dash, with a Tiffany & Co. brooch, here in the Renaissance Revival Room with an Ann Lowe evening ensemble (manufactured by A. F. Chantilly Inc.), circa 1966, and a 1941 wedding dress. Hair, Lacy Redway; makeup, Sam Fine. Fashion Editor: Jorden Bickham. “All of the rooms are connected by these curatorial threads,” says Bolton, “but they’re also connected through this cinematic lens. Every director has put their own imprimatur on each of them.” Last fall’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”—a 6,000-square-foot grid of vitrines in and above the Anna Wintour Costume Center—forms a diptych with “Anthology,” but if the former exhibition focused more on designer pieces, its second half is equally informed by politics, culture, and historical narrative. “ ‘Lexicon’ was conceived as a modern vocabulary of American fashion,” explains Bolton. “ ‘Anthology’ is more about storytelling.” And what better way to narrate these stories than through that most American of art forms: cinema. “You’re dealing with nine different directors who have very different aesthetics and very different ways of working,” Bolton says. “You end up—and this is what I wanted—with something that is, in a way, discordant. It’s more dynamic.” Beginning with the largely anonymous dressmakers of the early 19th century, the exhibition tours the American rooms, graduating into the emergence of such name dressmakers as Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass. Studded throughout the exhibition, like fashion bread crumbs for the Hansel and Gretel museumgoer, are case studies offering what Bolton calls “deep-dive analyses” of various garments that hold particular resonance, starting with a grouping of Brooks Brothers coats—from the one Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated to the livery worn by an enslaved man—shedding light on “the hidden story of Brooks Brothers, which has clothed 40 presidents…but also had a thriving trade making uniforms for enslaved men and women.”

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