Reawakening Fashion


Text by Francesca Fontanesi

The Costume Institute of the MET presents exclusively the exhibition Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion. In the exhibition spaces designed by Leong Leong, more than two hundred garments from four different centuries serve as a metaphor for the fragility of the creative universe.

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From May 10th until September 2nd, 2024




Scheduled at the Costume Institute of New York from May 10th to September 2nd, 2024, Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion is an exhibition aimed at narrating the research, analysis, and various conservation methodologies capable of exploring the sensory characteristics of the garments present in the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition aims to delve into the themes of rebirth and renewal, inviting viewers to experience the many sensory facets of the garments. At the entrance of the exhibition, a sequence of autonomous galleries is opened, presented as individual case studies: each gallery explores a theme inspired by nature; historical pieces are juxtaposed with contemporary counterparts in an immersive environment designed to engage sight, smell, touch, and hearing.

Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, stated that when a piece of clothing enters our collection, its status changes irreversibly. What was once a vital part of a person’s life becomes, upon entering a museum collection, an immobile masterpiece that can no longer be worn, heard, touched, or smelled. The exhibition aims to bring these masterpieces back to life by reactivating their sensory capabilities through a wide range of technologies, offering visitors access to rare historical garments, such as a silk satin ball gown designed by American couturier Charles Frederick Worth in 1877. An illusory technique known as Pepper’s Ghost is primarily used to revive some pieces, while video animation, light projection, soundscaping, and computer-generated imagery will be extensively employed to weave a narrative around each piece to facilitate understanding.

Evening dress, French, 1902; Gift of Miss Irene Lewisohn, 1937 (C.I.37.44.2a, b). Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Petit.

“Sleeping Beauties will heighten our engagement with these masterpieces of fashion by evoking what it was like to feel, move, hear, smell, and interact with them when they could be worn”.

– Marina Kellen French

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion gathers around 250 garments and accessories from four different centuries visually unified by the natural imagery, serving as a metaphor for the fragility and ephemeral nature of fashion. The sleeping beauties, extremely fragile garments that can no longer be worn on mannequins, will be displayed in glass coffins allowing visitors to analyze their various states of deterioration under microscopes. From an Elizabethan corset dating back to the 17th century, to creations by third-millennium designers such as Phillip Lim, Stella McCartney, and Connor Ives, these unique specimens are at the heart of a curation aimed at changing the perception of the natural world through the processes of garment and textile making.

Ball gown, House of Worth (French, 1858−1956), Charles Frederick Worth (French, born England, 1825−1895), ca. 1887. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Petit.
“Butterfly” ball gown, Charles James, 1955;
Brooklyn Museum. Costume Collection at The MET.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Butterfly” ball gown, Charles James, ca. 1955;
Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2013.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Left: "Venus" ball gown, House of Dior, Christian Dior, fall/winter 1949–50.
Right: "Junon" ball gown, House of Dior, Christian Dior, fall/winter 1949–50.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dress, Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 2001;
Gift of Alexander McQueen, 2014.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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