The Glory of Designs by Women (It’s About Time)
Last October, when it was announced that Sarah Burton was leaving Alexander McQueen, the house she had nurtured to new gorgeousness after the suicide of its founder, and would be replaced by an Irish designer named Seán McGirr, it set off a sort of tsunami of angst in the fashion world.
See, it turned out that with McGirr’s appointment, every designer in the stable of its owner, Kering, the second-largest fashion conglomerate in the world, would be a white man. And it only got worse when, in quick succession, three more white men, all Italians, were named to the top jobs at Moschino, Tod’s and Rochas.
Where were the women (not to mention the designers of color), in an industry that largely caters to women? Weren’t we supposed to have moved beyond this? Cue the breast-beating and TikTok wailing.
And then, cue the corrective, which comes courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
“Women Dressing Women” is a celebration of work from the museum’s own collection by over 70 different female designers from the early 20th century to the present. It is the first time the museum has ever held a survey dedicated solely to the work of women, and it will be the first time that at least half of the 83 pieces on display have ever been seen.
That makes the show both a symptom of the problem (it’s kind of shocking to think that in the 85 years since the Costume Institute joined the Met no one has done this before, despite the complications of a show based on gender) and, perhaps, a signpost for a possible solution.
Indeed, rarely has an exhibition been more perfectly timed. Even if Mellissa Huber, the associate curator of the Costume Institute, who created the show along with Karen Van Godtsenhoven, the guest co-curator, did not intend it that way.