Friday, September 11, 2015


I had gotten off the plane at LaGuardia Sunday afternoon and was back in the apartment by four. Habit had me plugging in my computer to check my email and catch up with the news on MSN. As I scrolled through the email hitting delete, delete, delete I stopped at The Daily Beast's midday post just after trashing another request for a political contribution and before I got to an announcement about the next big plague coming to my part of the world. I can whip through most of the Beast's list of missives fairly quickly but a post on The Met's most successful fashion show ever peaked my interest. I clicked on it and read the entire article. For someone with a miniscule attention span having read the entire article was a real testament to its intrigue. The exhibit was titled "China: Through the Looking Glass". Almost 800,000 visitors had seen the exhibit besting the previous most attended fashion exhibit, a retrospective of Alexander McQueen's work which was held in 2011. Both shows had been extended giving more visitors time to wander through. For the China exhibit the museum kept itself open until midnight the last Friday and Saturday before its scheduled closing, but now Monday was going to be the very last day. I really wanted to see the show for myself. Monday morning I got up, dressed and walked across the park to the Met. I got there about 9:45 fifteen minutes before the Met opened. The line to get in must have begun to form at dawn. There were two lines running down the steps and then one turning south and the other north both about a block long by the time I got there. Before the doors opened the lines had stretched another block in both directions, but once the doors opened the lines moved quickly.
I got my ticket, slapped the September seventh sticker to my chest and followed the signs to the exhibit. Normally the fashion shows are confined to the Anna Wintour gallery but this show stretched from there upward and outward into all of the Eastern Asian galleries. I entered mid-tier some how on a staircase with a view of Chinese military wear from the Mao era.
It was like walking through the blood vessels of the museum. Everything was awash in red with a mix of Mao, military and Warhol.
I was swept from there down another staircase much like Alice through the looking glass right into the Wintour gallery and the kaleidoscopically hallucinogenic tour pairing fashion greats with historic artifacts of Chinese design.
There were dragons by Laurence Xu winding around graceful silhouettes
that culminated in a waterfall train.
There was a man's dinner jacket designed by Ralph Lauren perfect for cocktails at the Copa.
Inspiration stood behind execution on costume after costume designed by fashion icons like Yves St. Laurent and Tom Ford all set in a display that disappeared into black lacquer backgrounds doubling as mirrors to infinity.
The detail in craftsmanship and accessories was a story in fabric and thread that took me on visual journeys through the history of Chinese textiles.
These majestic costumes were accompanied by massive screens tying in film and how it portrayed China on the celluloid screen.  A long hallway of monitors ran through the middle of the Wintour gallery with mirror images from The Last Emperor making everyone who walked through it feel like a celebrity doing their own red carpet walk.
This in itself would have been enough but the exhibition continued throughout the entire Chinese galleries on the floor above.
My first step into the second floor put me in a gallery dedicated to chinoiserie with its use of massive patterning and intricate layering of Chinese motifs from a western perspective. It was a journey in Chinese history evocative of the fairytale pagodas with their Ali Baba slippered roofs, birds dripping in colorful plumage and blooming lotus flower symbols of serenity.
Even the attendees came embracing this approach to fashion.
From there my eyes literally swam into a room wrapped in blue
with some of the most magnificent examples of fabric and design
inspired by China's blue and white porcelain.
Beading paired with fabric perfectly defining the term China Doll.
It was Anna May Wong, the epitome of Chinese-American sophistication in the time prior to the Second World War,
whose recreation lived again in a hallway connecting the porcelain images to the mysteries that lay ahead on the rest of the second floor.
China has always been known in the West for its silk in both fabrics and wallpaper. The luminescence of silk was captured in both the costumes and the walls displayed in the next gallery I wandered into, a symbol of the West's fascination with the East dating back to Europe's initial contact with China
One of the most impressive pieces took up residence in a gallery of Buddhist idols. In the center of the minimalist gallery surrounded by the serenity of its sculptural inhabitants was a beautiful lotus inspired gown by Chinese designer, Guo Pei.
Both Christian Dior and Coco Chanel embraced the design aspect of the orient's calligraphy in the second to last gallery incorporating the symbols into their fabrics and then onto their creations. There was real sophistication in the simplicity of these dresses.
The final space leading out of the China galleries was devoted to a literary fantasy known as wuxia. It created an imaginary place where martial artists with superhuman powers joined monks and bandits and burglars in a code of chivalry encompassing justice, honesty, benevolence and disregard for wealth and desire.
The white tube forest hides these warriors while a huge screen showed clips from House of Flying Daggers and A Touch of Zen
As much as I love having a home in the low-key Midwest, having dual residence and given the opportunity to step into the world of New York City on a regular basis and experience wonders like China Through the Looking Glass makes me very grateful.

Anna May Wong, 1935
General Photographic Agency
Getty Images

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