The First Monday in May

 

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When fashion becomes art: the Met's 2015 exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass.

 
First Monday in May, The

Rihanna parades the most famous dress since Liz Hurley's

 

We have had many documentaries centred on fashion. However, this one by Andrew Rossi is distinctive since it has at its centre not a fashion house or a fashion magazine but New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, the film focuses on the museum's 2015 exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass and central to the film are the chief curator Andrew Bolton and the Costume Institute's co-chair and trustee, Vogue's Anna Wintour.

 

At the outset a question is posed: does fashion belong in a museum? That issue is immediately confronted  aided by same stunning colour photography which does indeed encourage us to looks at clothing as art works (and if a 17th century Jacobean bodice is on show then why not set up an exhibition illustrating the ways in which 21st century fashion designers in the West have been influenced by China?). This aspect is well handled and side issues touched on add to the interest: the influence of cinema on how we see China (Anna May Wong is represented), the way in which tricky political questions have to be considered in such a context (how best to refer to Mao in the exhibition, for example) and changing attitudes to art, be it the Chinese seeing the proposed show as too backward-looking or the altered viewpoint in the West when it comes to regarding art as wide-ranging enough to incorporate fashion (an outlook encouraged by the success of the Met's exhibition commemorating Alexander McQueen in 2011).

 

However, in time the film settles down to the conventional format of showing so many months, weeks and then days to the opening, an event which will involve the regular fund-raising gala on the first Monday in May. Some details of the preparation are intriguing and, if Bolton's history is all too briefly touched in, we do get a strong portrait of the formidable Anna Wintour at work. But the more worthwhile aspects are largely abandoned in the film's last third: the fund-raising relies on celebrities and all the glitz of the gala is allowed to take over and here one senses that this commercialised glamour is revelled in by Rossi. Viewers who share his fascination will like this film but, for myself, I was disappointed that after the genuinely interesting stuff the film should indulge this element so whole-heartedly.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour, Baz Luhrmann, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Wong Kar-Wai, Jason Bateman, Justin Bieber, John Boyega, George Clooney, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Miley Cyrus, Claire Danes, Larry David, Colin Firth, Kate Hudson, Kim Kardashian, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Chloë Grace Moretz, Wendi Murdoch, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Chloë Sevigny.

 

Dir Andrew Rossi, Pro Fabiola Beracasa Beckman, Sylvana Ward Durrett and Dawn Ostroff, Story Consultant Kate Novack, Ph Andrew Rossi and Bryan Sarkinen, Ed Chad Beck and Andrew Coffman, Music Ian Hultquist and Sofia Hultquist.

 
BFI/Relativity Studios/Planted Projects/Condé Nast Entertainment/Sarah Arison Productions/Farfetch-Dogwoof.
91 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 30 September 2016. Cert. 12A.