|Introduction: This exhibit is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through August 7, 2005. PhyllisC, Georgene and I all met in New York last week specifically to see this exhibit (hitting the garment district was strictly a fringe benefit :) ).
The exhibit showcases about 50 designs, mostly from the Chanel Couture Archives in Paris. The majority of the designs are by Mlle. Chanel, many from the 1920s, with a few from the early 19-aughts and several from the 50s and 60s. There are also a number of designs by Karl Lagerfeld.
What did you particularly like about the exhibit? There was much that was wonderful about this exhibit. Chanel's designs exemplify why her style has withstood the test of time. While there were a few outfits that evoked a given time period, they would still be perfectly at home on the streets of Upper East Side New York today. Some highlights for me were a red silk vevet and lace evening dress from the 20s, a Jackie Kennedy-esque suit from the 1961 haute couture collections and a 1950s black tulle evening dress with multicolored sequins embroidered in a fountain motif on the skirt.
It was interesting to see the contrast between the Coco Chanel garments and the Lagerfeld/Chanel garments. While Lagerfeld is clearly influenced by the spirit of Mlle., he brings his own sensibilities to the Chanel atelier. My favorite of his designs were three duster-length jackets that were completely encrusted with beading and sequins. Their motifs were taken from the Chinese Screens in Mlle. Chanel's Paris apartment. The embellishment was simply spectacular, and seeing the continuation of the motifs across seamlines and over welt pockets was stunning.
There was also a small exhibit of jewelry from the house, including three diamond pieces - one of which was the star necklace that Celine Dion wore at the Oscars several years back. There were also cabochon bracelets, maltese crosses, necklaces and belts, mostly costume jewelry. They were just gorgeous.
What did you dislike about the exhibit? There were several things about this exhibit that bothered me, and they are the reason I only give the exhibit 2 stars. First is the general layout. The garments are displayed on mannequins which are set in three-sided boxes. You can only see the garments from the front of the box. In a perfect world, they would have put mirrors or windows on the other sides of the boxes, or just forsworn the box concept completely. It may be okay as art, but for anyone who wants to see the garment in its entirety, it's very frustrating.
While many of the Lagerfeld pieces are gorgeous, others look really dated. They had a "Scuba Suit" from the 1980s (remember those? Sequined or neoprene Chanel Jackets over leggings) that I found to be truly cringe-worthy - I actually wanted to own one of those??? They also devoted a box to Lagerfeld's Biker Chic collection from the early 90s. It just looks silly next to the Mlle. Chanel designs, and even next to Lagerfeld's other designs. I remember the layout in Vogue magazine in 1991. It has not aged well.
Finally, the lighting *sucked*. There, I said it. Sorry if I offend, but I have to tell you. The lighting was very shadowy, and it distorted the colors and made it difficult to see details. It felt like you were in a shadowbox at twilight. If I were Harold Koda, I would fire the lighting designer.
Conclusion: There are a few things wrong with this exhibit, but if you are in NYC and have time, it is really a must-see! Get there early, preferably on a weekday. It gets crowded fast, and I would imagine that it is a zoo on weekends.