This exhibition, presented in the Museum's Chinese Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center, will explore how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries, resulting in highly creative distortions of cultural realities and mythologies. High fashion will be juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, as well as films, to reveal enchanting reflections of Chinese imagery.
From the earliest period of European contact with China in the sixteenth century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make-believe. Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.
The exhibition will feature more than one hundred examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Filmic representations of China will be incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are framed by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which to understand the richness of Chinese history.
The Anna Wintour Costume Center's Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will present a series of "mirrored reflections" through time and space, focusing on Imperial China; the Republic of China, especially Shanghai in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s; and the People's Republic of China, with an emphasis on changing images of Chairman Mao. These reflections, as well as others in the exhibition, will be illustrated with scenes from films by such groundbreaking Chinese directors as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, and Wong Kar Wai. Distinct vignettes will be devoted to "women of style," including Oei Huilan (the former Madame Wellington Koo), Soong May-Ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek), and Empress Dowager Cixi.
Directly above the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the Chinese Galleries on the second floor will showcase fashion from the 1700s to the present, juxtaposed with decorative arts from Imperial China, including jade, lacquer, cloisonné, and blue-and-white porcelain, mostly drawn from the Met's collection. The Astor Court will feature a thematic vignette dedicated to Chinese opera, focusing on the celebrated performer Mei Lanfang, who inspired John Galliano's spring 2003 Christian Dior Haute Couture Collection, ensembles from which will be showcased alongside Mr. Mei's original opera costumes.