New York’s Metropolitan Museum Of Art (known to all as The Met) has a phenomenal collection of masterpieces. Its Costume Institute also has, in the basement, the world’s biggest fashion collection, and every year, it stages a themed exhibition. Last year’s was the rather clumsily-named “China: Through The Looking Glass”, which focused on the Chinese influence on Western fashion. This documentary is about the preparation (over eight months) of that exhibition, and of the celebrity-studded fundraising gala party – on guess-what date –which marks its opening. The supposed “queen of the night” on that occasion is Rihanna, who arrives in a dress that she claims took two years to make, and gets a bewilderingly rapturous response when she sings.
A lot of people are seen and heard here, but the central “players” are young Englishman, Andrew Bolton (the curator of the C.I. and overseer of the exhibition’s creation) and Vogue’s formidable editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, who organises the gala. (Fairly or not, she was of course the real-life inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada.) Neither is especially eloquent, but various other individuals debate the thorny question of whether fashion is art or mere commercial frippery. And then there are those who are given to gushing excitedly for no apparent reason and calling each other geniuses. But there’s also a more interesting diversion on the vexed question of orientalism and “colonialist” perspectives.
There are brief side trips here to Paris – where the creators go to view the Yves St. Laurent collection – and to China, to promote the exhibition. But the meat of the matter is of course back in New York. The First Monday In May is watchable enough, but it has a quorum of excess and narcissism, and some of it is as vacuous and pointless as fashion itself can be.