Press release

"American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" at Metropolitan Museum to Open May 5, 2010; First Costume Institute Exhibition Based on Renowned Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection

Gala Benefit May 3, 2010, with Co-Chairs Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Robinson, and Anna Wintour
Exhibition dates: May 5–August 15, 2010

The spring 2010 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is 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, explores 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 reveals how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sartorial emancipation. Early mass-media representations of American women established the fundamental characteristics of American style – a theme 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 takes place on Monday, May 3, 2010. The evening's Co-Chairs are Oprah Winfrey; Patrick Robinson, Executive Vice President of Global Design 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 view 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 looks at fashion's role in defining how American women have been represented historically, and how fashion costumes women into archetypes that persist in varying degrees of relevance."

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition features 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 walk through time as they enter circular galleries that reflect the milieu of each feminine archetype. Period clothing is brought to life with hand-painted panoramas animated by music, video, and lighting. The first gallery evokes the ballroom of the "Heiress" (1890s), filled with ball gowns by Charles Frederick Worth. Scenes of the great outdoors 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 provides 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) have backdrops of archival film footage revealing the gradual political emancipation of women after World War I.

"Flappers" (1920s) are evoked through simple, practical chemise dresses for day by Patou, and heavily beaded styles for evening by Lanvin and Molyneux, shown against a mural of New York City inspired by the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka. Cinematic representations of the "Screen Siren" presented in a gallery resembling a 1930s cinema, 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 explore how American style has evolved from characteristics represented by each of the exhibition's archetypes.

Designers in the exhibition 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, American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection, at the Brooklyn Museum (May 7–August 1, 2010) looks 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 is organized by Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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 serves 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 Tamaris Kyoto. 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 is created by Nathan Crowley with Raul Avila.

Related Programs
An audio tour, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker, provides additional insight into the exhibition and the birth of the modern American woman. It is available for rental ($7, $6 for members, and $5 for children under 12). The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

A two-day symposium celebrating the historic collection-sharing program between the Met and the Brooklyn Museum takes place May 21 in Brooklyn, and May 22 at the Metropolitan. The events are free with Museum admission.

Two documentary films accompany the exhibition – Charles Dana Gibson: Portrait of an Illustrator (1997) and The Flapper Story (1985) – and will be shown at 2 p.m. on certain Tuesdays and Thursdays (schedule available on

Programs for teens include a T-shirt design competition for high school students (deadline June 14). The winners will be celebrated at a Teen Festival of Fashion: From Suffragists to Sirens featuring related fashion activities on July 17. A Conversation with Two Artists: Fashion! featuring a discussion between Andrew Bolton and Jaehee Park, a design director at Gap, takes place on May 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.

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

The Metropolitan Museum's website ( features the exhibition and additional information on these programs.

A T-shirt designed by Gap on the occasion of the exhibition is available in the Museum's on-site shops and for $30.

# # #

May 3, 2010

Press resources