Inside The Met's 'Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion' Exhibition

Featuring 220 garments and accessories spanning four different centuries in the Museum’s collection.

Fashion
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Amidst Cardi B’s colossal arrival and Doja Cat’s wet Vetements look, Monday’s Met Gala offered a proper fête for the opening of The Costume Institute‘s Spring 2024 exhibition, Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion. The massive showcase, which houses roughly 220 garments and accessories made across four different centuries, “reactivates the sensory capacities of masterworks in the Museum’s collection through first-hand research, conservation analysis, and diverse technologies” — and it’s set to open to the public on May 10.

“When an item of clothing enters the Costume Institute collection, its status is changed forever,” reads the exhibition’s description. “What was once a vital part of a person’s life is now a motionless ‘artwork’ that can no longer be worn or heard, touched, or smelled.”

The exhibition aims to reignite these historic fashion pieces with a bevy of technical tools, including artificial intelligence, computer-generated imagery, x-rays, video animation, light projection and soundscapes. United under the theme of nature, the gallery is organized into three categories — earth, air, and water — with motif-driven sub-divisions like “poppies,” “shells” and “mermaids.” “In many ways, nature serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion—its rebirth, renewal, and cyclicity as well as its transience, ephemerality, and evanescence,” the museum said.

Scent expert and consultant Sissel Tolaas replicated the exact aromas of certain gowns and specific people (like Paul Poiret’s muse Denise Poiret and heiress Millicent Rogers) by extracting molecules via microfilters. Guests can smell the coumarin, a component of tobacco and hay, and the benzaldehyde, a fragment of honey and almonds, in dresses by Dior and Lanvin, respectively.

Elsewhere, socialite Natalie Potter’s 1931 Callot Souers wedding dress comes with its own version of ChatGPT, which allows visitors to ask the “mermaid bride” their own questions. Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring 1988 haute couture “Iris” dress, which “involved 600 hours of handwork, 250 meters of ribbon, 200,000 beads, and 250,000 paillettes in 22 colors,” is exhibited with a projection of the gown’s sheer craftsmanship, made possible by CGI with 11,200 frames. SHOWstudio’s Nick Knight played consultant for many of the showcase’s technological activations, which also include an AI-crafted video of beetlewings chatting with a coat by Dries Van Noten.

Several pieces from Francesco Risso’s Spring 2024 collection for Marni are doused in a scent by perfumer Daniela Andrier, who concocted an aroma inspired by Risso’s “chance encounter with a young man on a visit to Paris at the age of fourteen.” From the same season, Jun Takahashi’s 3D-printed butterfly dress from his “Deep Mist” collection for Undercover speaks for the exhibition’s environmental mood board, as do myriad insect-clad French buttons dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Here, “sleeping beauties” is the term used to denote a historic garment that is too delicate to be dressed on a mannequin and instead must be displayed lying down. “Sleep is an essential salve for a garment’s well-being and survival, but as in life, it requires a suspension of the senses that equivocates between life and death,” the Institute added. “The exhibition is a reminder that the featured fashions— despite being destined for an eternal slumber safely within the museum’s walls—do not forget their sensory histories.”

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion will be open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute from May 10 through September 2. Take a look inside via the gallery above.

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