Before the Met Gala, a First Look at the “Sleeping Beauties” Catalog

That “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”—the upcoming exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute with its accompanying Met Gala—veers closer to a forensic than a fantastical reading of clothing is confirmed by a first look at the handsomely boxed exhibition catalog in which science and style sit side-by-side. On its box cover, after all, is one of Jun Takahashi’s spring 2024 Undercover terrarium dresses, complete with living plants, and, on the Paris runway at least, flitting butterflies.

One of the themes of “Sleeping Beauties” is museology itself. Costume departments face challenges that other departments do not. A vase is a vase is a vase is a vase; it exists apart from the body. In contrast, garments are animated—completed, even—by living, moving bodies. Yet once a piece of clothing enters a museum collection its relation to skin and motion ceases. Museums hold objects in public trust; ethical and conservation concerns prevent garments from ever again being worn. “Do Not Touch” is the apt title of curator Andrew Bolton’s catalog essay in which he lays out how he and his team, including consulting scientists, have endeavored to explore the sensory aspects—not only sight but the smell, touch, and sound—of the garments on display. Creating a parallel between the human senses and nature’s, the exhibition considers three elements: earth, air, and water.

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Close-ups of the Butterfly dress by Charles James.

Photo: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


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