AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion presents a wide range of works by British designers in The Metropolitan Museum's English Period Rooms' The Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries. As a pendant to the acclaimed 2004 Costume Institute exhibition Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century, AngloMania will examine ideals, stereotypes, and representation of Englishness by juxtaposing historical costume, period art, and furniture with late 20th and early 21st century fashions. As with Dangerous Liaisons, the clothing will be styled as a series of thematic vignettes that reflect the history, function, and decoration of the Museum's English Period Rooms. Conde Nast Publications and Burberry, which celebrates its sesquicentennial this year, are co-sponsoring this year's exhibition.
Anglomania is defined as the craze for all things English which gripped Europe during the mid-to-late 18th century. As perceived by Anglophiles such as Voltaire and Montesquieu, England was a land of reason, freedom, and tolerance, a land where the Enlightenment found its greatest expression. According to a release from Conde Nast, 'the exhibition presents the work of some of the most talented, provocative, and inspiring designers to have emerged from London in recent decades' Vogue has long heralded the power, vitality, and soaring imagination of London fashion. The magazine has guided, nurtured, and celebrated its creativity and vision in both word and image.'
The exhibit opens with a Union Jack waistcoat that Alexander McQueen designed for David Bowie. The garment has historical significance in that it references the frock coat worn by fictitious character John Bull who represented the heroic archetype of the freeborn Englishman. The theme of an English Garden is recreated with the Kirlington Park Room. The dresses made of textiles by Spitalfields, which represent traditional elements reveal patterns of the early 1700's to rococo designs of the 1750's, have been topped off with transgressional influences, in the form of Philip Treacy's 'orchid' hats. Anchoring the room is Hussein Chalayan's dress made from hundreds of nylon rosettes clipped to resemble topiary refers to more formal gardens of the 17th century.
Another prevalent theme in English literature, class divisions, specifically the master and servant relationship, is depicted in the Upstairs/Downstairs vignette on the Cassiobury Park Staircase. Here the contrast is between a gown with an eleven-foot train and floral motifs worn to the court of Queen Victoria and Hussein Chalayan's tattered dresses. On first glance, they may appear to parody the refinement and grandeur of an earlier period, but in fact they recall the practice of servants wearing their employer's hand-me-downs. The themes of empire and monarchy are explored in the Elizabethan room through a work by Vivienne Westwood, a blue-silver satin dress with bird, flower, and aquatic motifs. While Anglomania was sweeping through France in the mid-to-late 18th century, England was in the grips of Francomania. The Croome Court Room sets the stage for this reference, showcasing couturier Charles Frederick Worth's white satin and back velvet dress played against my favorite dress in the exhibit, a magnificent black silk taffeta ball gown by John Galliano for Christian Dior.
Sport, which has played a critical role in England's image development, is personified in 'The Hunt.' Sport was, and to a large extent still is, seen as class based, with fox hunting as aristocratic, cricket as bourgeois, and football as distinctly proletarian. Fox hunting dates back to the15th century, but came to be regarded as an upper-class activity in the late 18th, with a dress code that included a riding coat. Herein tradition is exhibited by a Bernard Weatherill hunting ensemble. Bernard Weatherill is the company that has supplied equestrian clothing to the royal family since 1912. The transgression theme features trench coats and hunting ensembles from John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and Christopher Bailey for Burberry.
On May 1st, The Metropolitan Museum invited members of the press to preview the exhibit and further celebrated the event later that evening with its annual Costume Institute Benefit Gala. Touted as the party of the year' Rose Marie bravo, Chief Executive of Burberry and the Duke of Devonshire served as Honorary Chairs of the Gala. The Co-Chairs were Christopher Bailey, Creative Director of Burberry, actress Sienna Miller, and Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue.
On the morning of the press preview, Anna Wintour gave Giorgio Armani a private tour of the exhibit and welcomed close friends, journalists and fellow Brits. Remarks took place in the Caroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court, where tea and scones were served. Metropolitan Museum of Art Director, Philippe de Montebello welcomed everyone; he made mention of 'the dialogues between past and present', and how all human emotions were represented in the exhibit from 'life to death.' He thanked corporate sponsors Burberry, in particular, Rose Marie Bravo and Christopher Bailey, Conde Nast and Anna Wintour. He said that Ms. Wintour had been a 'real inspiration in every single facet of the exhibition and the party that would follow.' He gave profound thanks to the Duke of Devonshire for being present, and spoke of his admiration for Curator-in-Charge of the Costume Institute Harold Koda and Associate Curator Andrew Bolton who 'made the exhibit what it is.'
Christopher Bailey joked at how he had brought British weather with him. 'I am thrilled to be part of this incredible exhibition and wonderful journey. It's an honour and huge pleasure to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Burberry. It's a pleasure to see, speak to, and be inspired by [the] participating designers.' He also gave special thanks to Andrew Bolton, Harold Koda, and all of those who collaborated and helped to bring the exhibit to fruition.
Andrew Bolton then took the podium, thanking Philippe de Montebello, Burberry, and Conde Nast. He elaborated on how the vignettes represent certain ideas of British culture and how this influence has persisted over centuries. He made reference to the official birth of punk in 1976 and thanked John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols) for his participation as well. John Lydon not only loaned one of his leather jackets to the exhibit, but also narrates the accompanying audio guide program. Mr. Lydon who was present shouted out from the audience, 'No problem, mate.' Mr. Bolton went on further to state that the exhibit disproves Oscar Wilde's dictum that 'History never appreciates an artist until after death.'
Excerpted from a Burberry release, 'We see AngloMania as a glorious salute to our heritage, as well as to the unparalleled range, diversity, and creativity of design in Great Britain today.' AngloMania will be on exhibit from May 3rd through September 4th, 2006.
Images provided courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.