American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity at Metropolitan Museum Featuring Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection

Gala Benefit May 3, 2010, with Co-Chairs Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Robinson, and Anna Wintour

The spring 2010 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, the first drawn from the newly established Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Met. The exhibition, on view from May 5 through August 15, 2010 (preceded on May 3 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit), will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from the 1890s to the 1940s, and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. Early mass-media representations of American women established the fundamental characteristics of American style – a theme that will be explored via a multimedia installation in the final gallery.

The exhibition is made possible by Gap.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Museum’s Costume Institute Gala Benefit will take place on Monday, May 3, 2010. The evening’s Co-Chairs will be Oprah Winfrey; Patrick Robinson, designer for Gap; and Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. This fundraising event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, operations, and capital improvements.

“The ideal of the American woman evolved from a dependence on European, Old World ideas of elegance into an independent New World sensibility that reflected freedoms still associated with American women today,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator of The Costume Institute. “The show will look at fashion’s role in defining how American women have been represented historically, and how fashion costumes women into archetypes that still persist in varying degrees of relevance.”

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition will feature approximately 80 examples of haute couture and high fashion primarily from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was transferred to the Met from the Brooklyn Museum in January 2009. Many of the pieces have not been seen by the public in more than 30 years.

Visitors will walk through time as they enter circular galleries that reflect the milieu of each feminine archetype. Period clothing will be brought to life with hand-painted panoramas animated by music, video, and lighting. The first gallery will evoke the ballroom of the “Heiress” (1890s), filled with ball gowns by Charles Frederick Worth. Scenes of the great outdoors will showcase the athleticism and physical independence of the “Gibson Girl” (1890s) as characterized by bathing costumes, riding ensembles, and cycling suits.

An artistic rendering of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio in New York will provide the backdrop for the “Bohemian” (early 1900s), an archetype represented by Rita Lydig and featuring her signature silk pantaloons by Callot Soeurs. The “Suffragist” and “Patriot” (1910s) will have backdrops of archival film footage revealing the gradual political emancipation of women around the time of World War I.

“Flappers” (1920s) will be evoked through simple, practical chemise dresses for day by Patou, and heavily beaded styles for evening by Lanvin and Molyneux, which will be shown against a mural of New York City inspired by the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka. Cinematic representations of the “Screen Siren” will be presented in a gallery resembling a 1930s cinema, and will showcase body-cleaving, second-skin bias-cut gowns, including a dress designed by Travis Banton for Anna May Wong in the film Limehouse Blues (1934). In the final gallery, projected images of American women from 1890 to the present will explore how today’s ideal of American style evolved from characteristics represented by each of the exhibition’s archetypes.

Designers in the exhibition will include Travis Banton, Gabrielle Chanel, Callot Soeurs, Madame Eta, Elizabeth Hawes, Madame Grès, Charles James, Jeanne Lanvin, Liberty & Company, Edward Molyneux, Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jessie Franklin Turner, Valentina, Madeleine Vionnet, Weeks, Charles Frederick Worth, and Jean-Philippe Worth, among others.

A concurrent exhibition of masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum from May 7 through August 1, 2010. American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection will look at 19th- and 20th-century masterworks by designers including Madame Grès, Charles James, Claire McCardell, Norman Norell, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Charles Frederick Worth collected by prominent women including Lauren Bacall, Dominique de Menil, and Millicent Rogers. Many of these pieces have never previously been exhibited. This exhibition will be organized by Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Exhibition dates: May 5–August 15, 2010
Press preview: Monday, May 3, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

The Metropolitan Museum exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Met’s Costume Institute. Nathan Crowley, a production designer of films including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Public Enemies will serve as the exhibition’s creative consultant, as he did for the 2008 exhibition Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. Heads and wigs are created and styled by Julien d’Ys and the Tamaris team. Trey Laird of Laird + Partners created the design for the final gallery in collaboration with 3-Legged Dog Media & Theater Group. The hand-painted exhibition backdrops are designed by Nathan Crowley with Jamie Rama; scenic rendering by Dana Kenn and Christopher Nowak for Center Line Studios. The graphic design of the exhibition is by Sue Koch of the Museum’s Design Department.

The design for the 2010 Costume Institute Gala Benefit will be created by Nathan Crowley with Raul Avila.

Online Feature and Publication
The Metropolitan Museum’s website ( will feature the exhibition.

A book, High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection by Jan Glier Reeder, will accompany both the Met and Brooklyn exhibitions. It is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art – $50 for hardcover and $25 for paperback – and will be available at the Met (including and the Brooklyn Museum. The hardcover will be distributed to additional outlets by Yale University Press.