costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history

the costume institute’s much-anticipated annual exhibition at the metropolitan museum of art in new york is set to open to the public. titled ‘about time: fashion and duration’, the show opens on october 29, 2020 and remains on view until february 7, 2021. with an exhibition design by es devlin, the presentation traces 150 years of fashion, from 1870 to the present, along a disrupted timeline. employing philosopher henri bergson’s concept of la durée — the continuity of time — the exhibition explores how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate the past, present, and future. the concept is also examined through the writings of virginia woolf, who serves as the exhibition’s ‘ghost narrator’.

costume institute exhibition
all images and video © the metropolitan museum of art



presented in the met fifth avenue’s iris and b. gerald cantor exhibition hall, the exhibition features a timeline of 125 fashions dating from 1870 — the year of the met’s founding and the start of a decade that witnessed major developments in the global standardization of time — to the present. the majority of objects on view are drawn from the costume institute’s collection, including major gifts from designers as part of the met’s 2020 collections initiative, and related to the museum’s 150th anniversary activities.

costume institute exhibition



the timeline unfolds in two adjacent galleries fabricated as enormous clock faces and organized around the principle of 60 minutes of fashion. each ‘minute’ features a pair of garments, with the primary work representing the linear nature of fashion and the secondary work its cyclical character. to illustrate bergson’s concept of duration — of the past co-existing with the present — the works in each pair are connected through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. for example, a black silk faille princess- line dress from the late 1870s is paired with an alexander mcqueen ‘bumster’ skirt from 1995.

costume institute exhibition
left: ‘bar’ suit, christian dior (french, 1905– 1957), jacket, spring/summer 1947; gift of mrs. john chambers hughes, 1958 (c.i.58.34.30). skirt, spring/summer 1947, edition 1969; gift of christian dior, 1969 (c.i.69.40). right: ensemble, junya watanabe (japanese, born 1961), fall/winter 2011–2012; courtesy junya watanabe comme des garçons



all garments are black to emphasize changes in silhouette, except at the conclusion of the show, where a white dress from viktor & rolf’s spring/summer 2020 haute couture collection — made from upcycled swatches in a patchwork design — serves as a symbol for the future of fashion with its emphasis on community, collaboration, and sustainability. ‘about time: fashion and duration considers the ephemeral nature of fashion, employing flashbacks and fast-forwards to reveal how it can be both linear and cyclical,’ says max hollein, director of the met. ‘the result is a show that presents a nuanced continuum of fashion over the museum’s 150-year history.’

costume institute exhibition



‘fashion is indelibly connected to time,’ adds andrew bolton, the wendy yu curator in charge of the costume institute. ‘it not only reflects and represents the spirit of the times, but it also changes and develops with the times, serving as an especially sensitive and accurate timepiece. through a series of chronologies, the exhibition uses the concept of duration to analyze the temporal twists and turns of fashion history.’



per government regulations, timed tickets are required for entrance to the museum, and are available online. the 2020 costume institute benefit, also known as ‘the met gala’, will not take place this year due to the global health crisis. see other projects relating to the met on designboom here.

costume institute exhibition

costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history

costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history

costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history
left: dress, iris van herpen (dutch, born 1984), fall/winter 2012–13 haute couture; gift of iris van herpen, in honor of harold koda, 2016 (2016.185). right: ball gown, charles james (american, born great britain, 1906–1978), 1951; brooklyn museum costume collection at the metropolitan museum of art, gift of the brooklyn museum, 2009; gift of mr. and mrs. robert coulson, 1964 (2009.300.1311)

costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history
dress, viktor & rolf (dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2020 haute couture; courtesy viktor + rolf. headpiece by shay ashual in collaboration with yevgeny koramblyum

costume institute exhibition at the met presents a disrupted timeline of fashion history
the exhibition remains on view until february 7, 2021


a conversation between andrew bolton and es devlin that reveals the design inspiration behind the exhibit




exhibition info:


name: about time: fashion and duration
location: the metropolitan museum of art, fifth avenue, new york
dates: october 29, 2020 – february 7, 2021
organized by: andrew bolton with support from amanda garfinkel, assistant curator, and jan reeder, curatorial consultant
exhibition design: es devlin with the met’s design department

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