The First Monday in May

Watched on a CX flight to Singapore. March 2017.

What a triumph of a film! It’s so bizarre that I should be interested in fashion at the ripe old age of almost 40. I never was before – I suppose because my style uniform is and always has been t-shirt and jeans – but recently it’s just become more interesting.

The First Monday in May is about the exhibition and gala that takes place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art every year. The gala, hosted by Anna Wintour (a trustee of the Met), and featuring all the best dressed celebrities and designers you can think of, raises the multi-million annual budget for the Met’s Costume Institute. And while the film delves into what goes into making the gala successful, it is the exhibition, created by Andrew Bolton, the Head Curator of the Costume Institute, that is the most fascinating.

In the film, Bolton talks about his first critically-acclaimed exhibition, Savage Beauty, which featured clothes by Alexander McQueen, and took place the year after the late designer died. It was an incredibly popular show, and was later brought to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where it was so popular that the V+A actually had to extend opening hours in order to accommodate all the people who wanted to see it. The interesting thing about this, is that the bar was set so high, it was difficult for Bolton to subsequently match it – so this film is about the coming together of the 2015 exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass.

Anything that has to do with China (or even Asia) these days seems to be rather sensitive. In this case, the exhibition is created by a white man, and featuring the clothes of many Caucasian designers (for example Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano) and therefore he was very keen for the exhibit to be seen as a whitewashed version. And then there was politics – there was a Mao section, and then there were costumes from the historical past (think The Last Emperor) – as well as a difference in vision (a common question was why is there no representation of modern China), and the need to balance the actual Asian exhibits within the museum, with the various costumes that would be placed those halls.

Perhaps it was because this particular exhibit was China-related (though I do think if the documentary had been about the Alexander McQueen exhibit, I would have loved it just the same), but I found the film so compelling and interesting and it totally drew me in. I think much of it had to do with Andrew Bolton, who is fascinating, smart, and so creative, and how he navigated the crazy that comes with putting together such a huge exhibit, and also Anna Wintour, who is a legend in herself, and how she and her team managed to pull the gala together.

I’m travelling back to HK on a flight in April – I’m hoping the documentary will still be in the CX library so I can re-watch it (yes, it’s so good I want to rewatch it already)… And one of these days, I’m really hoping that I can visit the Met, during one of the early summer months, so that I can see for myself one of the amazing exhibitions created and curated by the amazing Andrew Bolton.

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