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Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute Salutes Power of "Superheroes" Imagery in Fashion

Gala Benefit May 5, 2008, with Honorary Chair Giorgio Armani and Co-Chairs George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Anna Wintour
Exhibition dates: May 7–September 1, 2008
Exhibition location: Special exhibition galleries, first floor
Press preview: Monday, May 5, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

AsAs superheroes enjoy a surge in mass popularity, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the symbolic and metaphorical associations between these fictional characters and fashion in Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, an exhibition at the Museum from May 7 through September 1, 2008. The exhibition features approximately 60 ensembles including movie costumes, avant-garde haute couture, and high-performance sportswear to reveal how the superhero serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion and its ability to empower and transform the human body.

The exhibition is made possible by Giorgio Armani.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

"Today, superhero imagery has suffused almost every aspect of popular culture," said Andrew Bolton, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. "The superhero's iconic costume of cape, mask, and bodysuit finds many fashionable permutations. But fashion's embrace of the superhero extends beyond iconography, to issues of identity, sexuality, and nationalism. Fashion shares with the superhero an inherent metaphorical malleability which fuels its fascination with the idea and the ideal of the superhero."

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Museum's Costume Institute Gala Benefit takes place on Monday, May 5, 2008. Giorgio Armani serves as Honorary Chair of the Gala. Co-Chairs are actor George Clooney; actress Julia Roberts; and Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue.

The exhibition, in the Museum's first-floor special exhibition galleries, includes movie costumes as well as radical fashions that literally and figuratively reference superhero iconography, including Bernhard Willhelm's 2006 royal blue dress emblazoned with Superman's red-and-yellow "S-shield," a 1996 Walter van Beirendonck pink vinyl inflatable jacket, and a Thierry Mugler motorcycle bustier with polychrome handlebars and side-view mirrors. A long leather Balenciaga jacket with articulated bronze leggings evokes Iron Man's metallic skin, while a Jean Paul Gaultier second-skin bodysuit shares The Flash's streamlined aerodynamics.

Designers in the exhibition include Atair, Giorgio Armani, Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Eiko Ishioka, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Moschino, Thierry Mugler, Nike, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, Speedo, Spyder, As Four, Walter van Beirendonck, Versace, and Bernhard Willhelm.

Objects are organized thematically around specific superheroes, whose movie costumes and superpowers are catalysts for discussion of key concepts of superheroism and their expression in fashion. Superman and Spider-Man costumes address the subject of The Graphic Body, relating Superman's 'S' chevron to designer logos and branding. Catwoman represents The Paradoxical Body, which explores the character's vacillating manifestations of good and bad. The stars and stripes of Wonder Woman's uniform, a composite of the American flag, epitomize The Patriotic Body and designs that appropriate patriotic emotions implicit in the character. The Hulk, a metaphor for male potency, introduces a section on The Virile Body, which includes inflatable clothing that swells to exaggerate the male physique.

The Flash – a character who possesses superhuman speed - addresses the Aerodynamic Body as manifest in high-tech sportswear including Speedo's "Fastskin LZR Racer" designed by Rei Kawakubo for Michael Phelps and the 2008 United States Olympic swim team, Nike's "Swift Suit" for running, and Descente's "Muscle Suit" for speed skating. Batman and Iron Man represent The Armored Body, and examine avant-garde fashion that merges flesh and metal, skin and chromium. The Mutant Body, denoted by the X-Men, highlights clothing that morphs men into beasts. Ghost Rider (the biker-demon with flaming skull) and The Punisher (the vigilante who sports a giant death-skull emblem on his T-shirt) symbolize The Postmodern Body that suggests an anti-hero identity through the eclectic mixing of street styles.

The exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. Nathan Crowley, a production designer of films including Batman Begins and the upcoming The Dark Knight, serves as the exhibition's creative consultant. The graphic design of the exhibition is by Sue Koch, and the lighting design is by Clint Coller and Richard Lichte, all of the Museum's Design Department. Faces, wigs, and headdresses are designed and styled by Julien d'Ys.

The design for the 2008 Costume Institute gala benefit is created by Nathan Crowley with Raul Avila.

A book, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press ($50 hardcover and $30 paperback), accompanies the exhibition, and features an introduction by Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

The Museum's website's (www.metmuseum.org) Special Exhibitions Page on Superheroes features an interactive flipbook of images from comic books, movies, and fashion shows, as well as design statements from movie costume designers, and excerpts from the catalogue.

A variety of education programs complements the exhibition, including screenings of Superman II (1980), Batman Returns (1992), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002). A series of family programs features a one-hour slide introduction to the exhibition, and a program for teachers focuses on superheroes throughout the Met's collections.

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May 5, 2008

**Super Heroes is a registered trademark jointly owned by DC Comics and Marvel Characters, Inc.

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