It is important to note that the exhibit focuses on Western perceptions of China, rather than actual Chinese fashion itself. Thus, many of the clothes are romanticized and fantasized, rather than being historically accurate.
Chinese artifacts, such as robes, chinaware, and paintings, are juxtaposed with their high fashion counterparts to show how China influenced certain patterns, colors, and shapes.
Films featuring China or Chinese people are displayed on projectors throughout the exhibit, highlighting the role theater and film played in shaping people’s views about the country. Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress, was monumental in breaking the stereotypes associated with Asian women. Tired of being typecast as a docile Lotus Flower or fiery Dragon Lady in the United States, Anna May Wong moved to Europe, where avant-garde artists embraced her and allowed her to play more complex roles. She would go on to receive several accolades and awards for her performances.
Some of these dresses were so recently created, that people can view photographs of them being worn on the runway. Others date back to the early 1900s, when Lanvin, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent were still enraptured by ideals of China.
China continues to influence fashion today, both past and present, as seen by the Met Gala this year, and the Fall 2015 runway. Valentino, Vivienne Tam, Nicole Miller, and Gucci are all taking cue of this trend and incorporating it into their pieces with a modern touch. Many dresses are inspired by Manchu robes, which outfitted the imperial court and the Chinese royal family. The nature and animal images are used to show the splendor and majesty of imperial authority. Red and gold, symbolic colors in China, can be seen frequently throughout the collection.
This room houses colorful, elegant dresses on mannequins placed in various spots throughout to create a picturesque, peaceful garden scene. The Met used reflective, black tiles to create an illusion of water. Blue and white porcelain became the source of inspiration for the dresses in the blue room. Chinese porcelain was one of the most popular exports to the West between the 16th to the 18th century. People in Europe and America went crazy for the chinaware, so potters in the Netherlands, Germany, and England tried to emulate it. The result was the willow pattern, which many people mistaken to have originated from China. Plates, bowls, and pitchers serve as headpieces to allude to this historic trade between the East and West.
The jewel of the whole collection is definitely this gold dress by Guo Pei, the same designer who created Rihanna’s extravagant yellow gown for the Met Gala. Inspired by Buddhist iconography, the dress incorporates the lotus flower in its shape and pattern. However, no photograph will ever compare to seeing these in person. So grab your friends, and head down to the Met before the exhibit ends on September 7. It is the premier exhibition for China lovers and casual art fans alike.