Superhero costumes are big this year and it’s not just the new Ironman movie that has influenced the zeitgeist. In case you have been living in a vacuum, last night was the opening of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy.”
The MET’s annual Costume Institute Gala has been called the “Oscars of the East” and has long been a star filled event with a huge list of who’s who in the art, fashion, and celebrity word. This year, co-hosted by Giorgio Armani, and filled with past silver screen embodiments of superhero’s past was no exception. Most wore the appropriate designer red carpet ensembles, but there are defiantly a few who took the superhero theme to the limits.
While the ideal of a superhero costume obviously fits well into the whole costume concept, one might find it a far stretch to compare Wonder Woman to a 1740’s English dress designed by Robe a la Francaise which resides in the Costume Institutes permanent exhibit. Never fear though, as the MET has perfectly explained how something as campy and pop ridden as Spiderman deserves apt recognition. As state on the main exhibit Web site:
“Through the years, the superhero has been used to embody—through metaphor—our social and political realities … Fashion not only shares the superhero’s metaphoric malleability, but actually embraces and responds to the particular metaphors that the superhero represents, notably that of the power of transformation. Fashion celebrates metamorphosis, providing unlimited opportunities to remake and reshape the flesh and the self. Through fashion and the superhero, we gain the freedom to fantasize, to escape the banal, the ordinary, and the quotidian. …”
The actual costumes drawn for comic books become blurred with the costumes designed for the movies and then, when you add the fashion designers interpretations, somehow it makes sense.
Take Catwoman, for example. Created by Bob Kane in 1940, as a simple burglary foe of Batman’s, she not only rose to popularity and achieved her own comic book, but also, no matter how poor the reviews were, got her own movie as well in 2004. In some ways, she is a clear parable for the plight of women and their independence of men though time.
While she has had many varieties of the same look and has been considered evil, sympathetic, a paradox, conflicted and confused, the MET explains in very fancy language that she is a literal contradiction of the plight the female superheroes must eternal endure: a duel condition of dominance and submission.
The question remains though, who inspired who and what gets lost and created in those translations? For Michelle Pfeiffer’s character Catwoman/ Selina Kyle in the 1992 movie: Batman Returns. Designer Mary Vogt explains that the Tim Burton inspired rendition of this Catwoman suit included the visible white ragged stitches as more than just a plot line. They are intended to function as a suggestion that Selina has been sewn back together as an act of physical regeneration.
The symbolic white stitches are obviously rendered and translated to something very wearable indeed as this 2001 Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano. While the MET has interpreted many of the Catwoman inspired looks in fashion have “ muted their meanings and sanitized their subtexts,” this Dior dress carries enough or the original feel to still be obviously “cat inspired” yet still be fashion, and in this case, art as well. That alone, can be the embodiment of the Catwoman paradox.
The MET is running the show from now until September 1, 2008. If you can’t make it to NY in time, then be sure to visit the Fashion and Fantasy site on the MET and look at the superhero inspired designer collections. The explanations of the different “ bodies” on the bottom provides some interesting explanation and deep thinking, plus great fashion inspiration for us all.
If the Superhero show makes waves like some of the prior exhibits at the Institute, perhaps it will be like Batman and return? The 2005 exhibit from the MET Costume Institute: Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection has been added to and is sponsored by Loehmann’s discount designer storesat the Nassau Country Museum of Art beginning May 20th. It has also been made available as a wonderful book available at Amazon, Rare Bird of Fashion; the Irreverent Iris Apfel. Let’s hope we see a Superhero show in book form as well.