Models as muses at the Met

Renee Minus White | 4/12/2011, 4:37 p.m.
For spring 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute explores the reciprocal relationship between...
Models as muses at the Met


Models as muses at the Met

For spring 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute explores the reciprocal relationship between high fashion and evolving beauty. On view from May 6 through August 9, the exhibit focuses on iconic fashion models in the latter half of the 20th century. It shows their roles in protecting, and inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.

"The exhibition examines a timeline of fashion from 1947 to 1997 through the idealized aesthetic of the fashion model," said Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute. "We look at the power of clothing, fashion photography and the model to protect the look of an era. With a mere gesture, a truly stellar model can sum up the attitude of her time--becoming not only a muse to designers or photographers, but a muse to a generation."

Kohle Yohannan was the guest co-curator and a cultural historian of the exhibit. To celebrate the opening of this exhibition, the museum's Costume Institute held a red carpet gala last Monday night. All of the stars were out. Marc Jacobs served as the honorary chair of the gala. Co-chairs were Kate Moss, Justin Timberlake and Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue. The exhibition features approximately 80 masterworks of haute couture and ready-to-wear. The show utilizes fashion editorial, advertising and runway photography. There are also large-scale projections from feature films throughout the galleries to contextualize the fashion zeitgeist.

Overall, "The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion" shows how models transmit cultural change via photographs that document turning points in society and design. With the post-WWII resurgence of American fashion and advertising industries, the launch of Dior's New Look and a proliferation of model agencies, an environment in which high fashion models with celebrated personalities and distinctive identities emerged. Located in the museum's second floor Tisch Galleries, walk through sections are titled "Sports Illustrated," "the Super Models," "Designers and Super Models," "the '60s Stretch," "the Lithe Body," "the Body Politic and Grunge," "the Anti Model" and "Return to Glamour." The exhibit opens with a series of black-and-white fashion photos in the first hall that leads to a room filled with photos of top models on the covers of fashion magazines, including Vogue, Life, Fashion of the Times and Harper's Bazaar.

In 1967, Naomi Sims appeared on the cover of the New York Times fashion pages. Her appearance in this publication was a major breakthrough for women of color and minority models. Born in Mississippi, Sims was one of the first African-American models to make her way into the mainstream American fashion market. Despite her high profile debut, Sims encountered difficulties finding representation by a major agency.

Undeterred, she eventually found a willing ally in former model Wilhelmina, who was among the first established American agents to represent and promote Black models. Going on to work for major fashion magazines, Sims appeared in American Vogue, Ladies Home Journal and McCall's, as well as on the covers of Life, Cosmopolitan and Essence. She also embarked on a successful career as an entrepreneur in the beauty industry, author and businesswoman.