The Met Displays China-Inspired Fashion

Embroidery has a starring role in the latest exhibit at the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “China: Through the Looking Glass,” which runs until August 16, explores the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries. The exhibit juxtaposes high fashion with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains and other art.

“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia and make-believe,” says Andrew Bolton, curator.

Part of Italian designer Valentino’s 2013 “Shanghai” collection, this evening dress shows how Chinese aesthetics have affected Western fashion. It’s part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Spring 2015 Costume Institute exhibit: “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Photo: Platon, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photography.

This 19th century court robe from China’s Qing dynasty is on display at “China: Through the Looking Glass,” the spring 2015 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Photo: Platon, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photography.

Concerns that the premise of the exhibit, presenting an ancient culture as a Western fantasy, smacks of Orientalism and cultural appropriation are addressed.“While some may perceive an implicit power imbalance in such costuming, designers are driven less by the logic of politics than by that of fashion, which is typically more concerned with an aesthetic of surfaces rather than the specifics of cultural context,” reads a sign posted at the exhibit.