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"China Through the Looking Glass"
The Costume Institute

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

May 7, 2015 through September 7, 2015

Most Dazzling Exhibit Ever at the Met

Inspired Designs for Foreign Designers

Chinaesque Reigns!

Stephen Jones almost steals the show with his spectacular "headpieces" that are not in the photographs in the sumptuous catalogue


House of Dior, John Galliano (British), Ensemble, spring/summer 2003, coat of silk and synthetic jacquard printed with polychromed motifs, dress of white silk knit and gold silk net embroidered with gold and metallic thread; hat of white synthetic mesh.  Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture.

The photographs in this article that appear a bit warped are of pages from the exhibition's great catalogue.  The other photographs are by Carter B. Horsley.

By Carter B. Horsley

The "China Through A Looking Glass" exhibition at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the most dazzling and beautiful in the history of the museum, not just the Costume Institute.

It is not, despite its title, a review of great Chinese fashion designers as they are in scant supply in this extremely sumptuous "haute couture" show.

Although it includes some cloaks and baubles from the past, it mostly consists of relatively recent designs by well-known fashion designers such as John Calliano, Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Yves Saint Laurent,  and Valentino.

While the fashion designs are very spectacular and innovative and by no means limited to dragonladies, the exhibition also includes sensational headpieces/hats designed by Stephen Jones that almost steal the show and which are not included in the very sumptuous catalogue photographs.

The majority of the "works" in the exhibition are jaw-dropping and "game-changing."


House of Dior, John Galliano (British), evening gown, spring/summer 2009 haute couture. White silk organza amd lace, and white silk satin embroidered with blue silk thread.  Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture.

In his catalogue essay "Toward An Aesthetic of Surfaces," Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute curator, states that the exhibition "is not about China per se but about a China that exists as a collective fantasy," adding that "It is about cultural interaction, the circuits of exchange through which certain images and objects have migrated across geographic boundaries."


Robe à la polonaise, French, ca/ 1780.  White silk taffeta hand-painted with polychrome floral motifs.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Alan W. Davis Gift. 1976


Yves Saint Laurent (French).  Evening coat, autumn/winter 1977/1978 haute couture.  Gold lamé matelassé, black fox fur.  Courtesy of Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Paris


Jean-Paul Gaultier (French).  Dress, autumn/winter 2001-2 haute couture.  Gold lamé and blue silk mouseline.  Courtesy of Jean-Paul Gaultier.


Isabel Toledo (American, born Cuba).  Ensemble, autumn/winter 1996-7, Blue and white silk wool brocade, white silk net.  Courtesy of Ruben + Isabel Toledo/Toledo Archives


Valentino S. p. A. (Italian).  Dress, "Shanghai" collection 2013.  Red leather cut-out with appliqué of red leather and embroidery of red silk thread.  Courtesy of Valentino S. p. A.


Yves Saint Laurent (French).  Tom Ford (American).  Evening dress, autumn/winter 2004/5.  Red silk satin embroidered with polychromed plastic sequins, gray fox fur.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Yves Saint Laurent, 2005

Red jacket

Evening coat, French circa 1925/  Double-sided pink and blue silk velvet, quilted and inset with gold lamé, brown mink fur. Brooklyn  Museum Costume Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009, Gift of Mrs. Robert S.  Kilbourne.


Roberto Cavalli (Italian).  Evening dress, autumn/winter 2005-6.  Blue and white silk satin.  Courtesy of Roberto Cavalli.

Lapis dress

Rodarte (America, founded 2004).  Dress, spring/summer 2011/  White and blue hammered silk crepe, white silk tulle embroidered with blue and white ribbon.  Courtesy of RODARTE.

Black lace

Emilio Pucci (Italian, founded 1947).  Peter Dundas (Norwegian).  Dress, spring/summer 2013.  Slip of synthetic mesh embroidered with black and gray silk threat, black beads and crystals, dress of black silk chiffon.  Courtesy of Emilio Pucci


Alexander McQueen (British) and Philip Treacy (British).  "Chinese Garden" headdress, spring/summer 2005.  Carved cork. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Z. Solomon-Janet A. Sloane Endowment Fund, 2007

Calligraphy 2

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, (French).  Dress, circa 1956.  White silk surah printed with black Chinese character motifs. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, Gift of H. Gregory Thomas 1959

One would have thought that calligraphy would have inspired much more in this exhibition than just two dresses.


Christian Dior (French).  "Quiproquo" cocktail dress, 1951. White silk shantung printed with black Chinese character motifs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Byron C. Foy, 1953

Chinafash10     Tom Ford catalogue

Yves Saint Laurent, (French), Tom Ford (American).  Evening dress, autumn/winter 2004-5.  Yellow silk satin embroidered with polychrome plastic sequins.  Coutesy of Yves Saint Laurent, Paris.  Exhibition gallery, left, and catalogue, right


Cristobal Balenciaga (Spanish). Ensemble, 1955-6. White silk taffeta hand-painted with polychrome floral motifs.  Courtesy of The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan [Dress is much more white]

Chinafash12    McQueen ruffles

Alexander McQueen (British).  Dress, autumn/winter 2006-7. Cream and polychrome silk jacquard.  Courtesy of Alexander McQueen, in poor gallery lighting, left; in catalogue, right


House of Chanel (French). Karl Lagerfeld (French).  House of Lesage (French).  Evening dress, spring/summer 1984 haute couture.  White silk organza, tulle, and taffeta embroidered with blue, white and crystal beads.  Courtesy of Collection CHANEL, Paris, center


Giambattista Valli (Italian).  Coat, autumn/winter 2013 haute couture.  White and blue printed silk faille embroidered with navy, blue and white silk thread, clear synthetic sequins, crystals and appliqué of blue and white silk organza.  Courtesy of Giambattista Valli.


Li Xiaofeng (Chinese) Beijing Memory No. 5, 2009, Qing period shards, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing and the artist

     Travis Barton catalogue      Travis barton red

Travis Banton (American).  Evening dress, 1934, black silk charmeuse embroidered with gold and silver sequins.  Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009, Gift of Anna May Wong, in catalogue, left; in exhibition, right

Anna May Wong is quite prominent in the exhibition and catalogue even though she cannot hold a proverbial candle to such greater Chinese beauties as Zhang Yizi, Gong Li and Maggie Cheung but she was a pioneer "Dragon Lady."


Valentino Garavani (Italian).  Ensemble, autumn/winter 1990-1 haute couture.  Jacket and shirt of beige silk satin and organza, embroidered with brown and gold silk yarn and metal thread, red-orange, gold, blouse, and silver plastic sequins, beads and crystals. Courtesy of Valentino S. p. A.

Dragon skirt

House of Givenchy (French) Alexander McQueen (British).  Dress, autumn/winter 1997-8 haute couture.  Black silk taffeta embroidered with black glass beads and crystals, black polychrome printed silk-cotton screen, black synthetic lkace.  Courtesy of Givenchy.

Three balls

Mantle. Chinese.  1917-1920.  Black silk satin embroidered with polychrome silk and appliqué of red rooster feathers and pink silk flowers.  Courtesy ofMusée de la Mode et du Textile, UFAC collection. Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris

Peacock hat

Valentino Garavani (Italian).  Hat, autumn/winter 1993-4, black feathers, Courtesy Valentino S. p. D.

Red hat

Man's summer court hat with peacock feather.  Chinese, late 19-Century-early 20th Century.  Red basketry, pink and green glass; peacock feather.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Alica Boney


Click here to order the $45 catalogue from for $31.55


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