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The Devolution of the Model as Muse Fantasy

Over the weekend Flavorpill took a trip to the Met to check out the much-hyped The Model as Muse exhibit currently on view, which is being sponsored by Marc Jacobs in partnership with Conde Nast. The show is a tribute not just to iconic fashion photography, which has made the glossy magazines of today the titans they have become, but also the models who inspired these images. From the timeless elegance of Richard Avedon’s editorial work with Dorian Leigh, to the almost mythical “Trinity” of Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell, the influence of the supermodel as a source of inspiration is doubtless. What IS open to speculation is the manner in which the Costume Institute chose to curate the show. Our full review, after the jump.

Individual rooms are each a tribute to a different era of fashion, and the show starts out strong with an introduction to pre-war French ccouture and it’s ubiquitous influence on fashion powerhouses Dior and Chanel. It seems that before the era of fast fashion, the French were truly the only game in town — setting the rigid standards of lithe beauty we’ve come to associate with the Francophile aesthetic. Here’s where the models come in. The sharp lines and heavy fabrics of this era, and the subsequent immediate post war era, would have seemed too harsh without the feminine grace Suzy Parker and Sunny Harnett lent to the garments.

From this room one wanders into a large gallery inspired by William Klein’s 1966 film Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? Per the Met’s press release, you’ll find “Xavier de la Salle’s metallic dresses from the movie and ensembles from Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin, and Rudi Gernreich, designers who heralded the transformation from a sophisticated to a youthful ideal with Jean Shrimpton, Peggy Moffitt, Veruschka, and Twiggy.” This gallery employs the most creativity and  vision — with an era-appropriate soundtrack of The Who, psychedelic lights, and rotating Laugh-In-style platforms. Here we see the cult of the model begin to form as fashion deities like Verusckka introduce the world to more exotic forms of beauty. There’s also the realization that in this era the provocative fashion was tantamount to social revolution — as pieces such as the mini skirt and the shift dress freed women both physically and sensually from the bonds of pre-sexual revolution fashion.

The remaining rooms seemed more like parodies of fashion movements and bygone eras than an informative journey through the rag trade: In the ’70s-inspired room it was an aural assault of bad disco music. The clothing seemed less iconic and more like an idealized vision of the era of excess. Shiny Halston pieces adorning Lauren Hutton, though tantalizing, lacked social context — it just seemed like a bunch of beautiful rich women wearing expensive clothes. As for the ’80s room, the exaltation of model from foil to deity made us wonder: Why do we care so much about media-fabricated goddesses like Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour? Their editorial photos seeming more like National Geographic investigations into the culture of Glamazonia than the fruition of a designer’s artistic vision.

As the exhibit was sponsored by Marc Jacobs, we expected the former grung king to have presented the ’90s-themed room as the piece de resistance — with edgy images of  Kate Moss and Karen Elson draped across their rock star boyfriends. But this final room looked more like a men’s urinal than an art exhibit. The Marilyn Manson music didn’t help. At the end we couldn’t help but feel that the museum had really wanted to do an entire exhibit on fashion and social revolution in the ’60s but didn’t want to risk alienating a younger audience. While we were intrigued by the concept, by the end of the show many of the models ended up seeming less like muses and more like clotheshorses — with the fashion world just along for the ride.

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