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Class Reviews > Chanel Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute

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Posted by: GorgeousFabrics

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Posted on: 5/22/05 3:45 PM
Rating: starstar
Review Rating: Helpful by 1 people   Very Helpful by 6 people   
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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.


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MaryBeth said...
Thanks, Ann!
5/22/05 11:10 PM
Ann B. said...
I saw this last Saturday, and did like the exhibit, all and all. It was so crowded and dark that it was a little difficult to see the exhibits as well as I would have liked. I also wanted to be closer to the work than we were able to be. It also would have been nice to have at least one garment displayed so we could see some of the interior details. I would have liked to see the exhibit done on a time line. There was some attempt to group the fashions by type, which was nice, but I did find it jarring to jump between Coco and K.L. I did make a quick stop in at Parons...
5/22/05 11:23 PM
Kathryn said...
I saw the exhibit a couple of weeks ago. I went around lunchtime on Tuesday and it was not crowded at all. In fact, I was able to walk through the entire exhibit three times to really study the garments that I liked. It is true that the lighting is dim, but that is a requirement to protect the vintage fabrics, I believe. The catalog that accompanied the exhibit was great, and gave lots of info, and there are umbrellas, scarves, other books on fashion, and even a "fashion CD" of music available in the Met store. Also, in SoHo, the Lagerfeld drawings of the garments in the exhibit are on display and presumably for sale at a gallery there: V Magazine, 11 Mercer St, NY, NY, phone 212.274.2595 I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of the Lagerfeld reinvention of the Chanel design elements and in fact preferred many of his garments to hers. I have a problem with Coco Chanel, personally, because of her reputed Nazi liasons during the war. I therefore can't adore her as an icon, but I can admire the art that she produced.
5/23/05 9:20 AM
PhyllisC said...
Oops - I just reviewd this as a sewing expo! I concur with Ann.
5/23/05 3:01 PM
Gigi Louis said...
I want to order the exhibit catalogue. I was wondering if you thought it was worth ordering in hardback or not. If it's full of great photos I'd just as soon get the HB. If it's just soso, maybe I'll get the paperback.
5/23/05 6:26 PM
Kathryn said...
Gigi, I got the paperback, and it's just fine. I wanted to spend a little extra and get the $10 set of Chanel postcards to frame for my sewing room (they also have the postcards assembled in a poster format), so I economized on the catalog. Just as an aside, I was not able to attend the Jackie Kennedy exhibit, which also has a wonderful catalog. I was able to buy it online (I used a booksearch engine to find it) for about $25 less than the price that the museum sold it for. I checked on the Chanel catalog, and it is not yet for sale from anyone but the Met, so maybe the trick is to wait until the exhibit closes if you want to save some $$ on the catalog.
5/24/05 6:35 AM
Georgene said...
I just ordered the catalog/book from this exhibit online thru The hardback price at Amazon is the same as the paperback price at the Met. I'm glad I was able to get it online, as I really didn't want to haul it around all day in NYC> as it was, we had plenty to carry by the end of the day after spending all day in the garment center. :-)
5/28/05 4:52 PM
Gigi Louis said...
Thanks, Georgene! I ordered my copy this morning.
5/29/05 8:38 AM
priscilla said...
I thought I was the only one that thought the lighting was too low to really see the fabric detail etc. Unfortunately the day I was there the crowds were three deep. I agree with you that the displays lacked the opportunity to see the back of the garments I think even non sewers would have found this interesting.The idea of a mirror behind the display is terrific I hope you sent them the suggestion. All in all I'm trilled that I had the opportunity to see this exhibit and feel lucky to live so close to this magnificant city.
12/11/05 7:46 AM
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