Experience China's Fashion at The MET's The Looking Glass Exhibit



Every year while our long awaited warm weather settles in, there is another welcome arrival in my beloved NYC.  It defines the NYC summer season, makes a permanent mark on the cultural scene, and is referenced for years to come.

The must-see event for Spring/Summer of 2015 is China: Thru the Looking Glass, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual thematic exhibit representing the fabulous talents and vision from their glorious Costume Institute.

The moment you enter the initial palatial sized room of the exhibit you are gobsmacked.  It’s as if Shangri-la has been realized. The mystical tone, the exotic soundtrack, the mysterious lighting–immediately you reach an exotic sensory overload.  I swear Yves St. Laurent’s landmark perfume, Opium, scents the air, so strong is the atmosphere. How appropriate!  Timeless ultra sheik designer dresses are highlighted as viewed thru another layer–a looking glass–and mirrored over the centuries by Orientalism.  For instance, there are fantastic contemporary designs by the world’s top fashion designers yet artfully mirrored alongside are the actual 18th century kimonos which define the chosen color and pattern.

Each and every room in this exhibit has its own distinct, imaginative manner of accenting its thematic treasures.  This extraordinary aesthetic defies metaphor, but let’s say it’s like swimming in champagne and toweling off with red velvet.  It is not only the gorgeous items themselves, but the actual manner of presentation that creates such a musical enchantment to this show.  The talented MET curators cleverly take it all to a level unknown to us mere mortals, but we are welcome to their luscious world.

The exotic East had quite a global impact despite the centuries of China’s closed door policy–such a range of international designers, from Karl Lagerfeld to Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen to Yves St. Laurent, John Paul Gaultier to John Galliano have overtly yet subtly been affected.  What a sumptuous visual feast for our viewing–dress designs, perfume bottles, cinema, statuary, and jewelry–China’s reach is in every corner.


As you enter the exhibit your eyes adjust to an enormous darkened space in which huge, slim, glow in the dark, overly elongated bamboo lights dominate.  Subtly hidden in this fluorescent field of reeds are clothing designs obviously influenced by China’s everyday wear.

There’s a twist–the futuristic morphs into the ancient!  Bordering the parameters are all manner, shape and size of Buddhas from the 8th century onward, subtly reminding the spectator that it took centuries to arrive at this suspended moment.  At the enormous end wall of this intriguing space is a tremendous film screen displaying carefully chosen, gravity defying film clips from “House of Flying Daggers.”  I am telling you, I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of this exhibit, I needed oxygen, it was so breathtaking.  And to seal the deal yet continuously explore the East’s contributions to the world’s cultural stance, this entire exhibit abounds with astounding film clips from China’s dynamic cinematic repertoire.

“The Last Emperor,” “Farewell My Concubine,” “The World of Suzie Wong,” “In the Mood For Love,” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” are a few of the films represented–reminding us of yet another art form originating from China’s distinct vision.


You float from room to room–from the most exquisite golden ball gown by Guo Pei (she designed Rhianna’s enormous mustard colored robe for the MET Gala) which is featured in its own spectacular room–thru the mindset of a mystical, moonlight reflection room delightfully filled with Dior designs by John Galliano.  Step into a room of sensual Valentino red gossamers–underscored by film clips from “Raise the Red Lantern”–followed by Alexander McQueen visionary geometric blues–even the disturbing but politically important Mao Red Army uniforms are represented here.  The range and variety of these exquisite displays and the manner in which Asian objects d’arte, both ancient and modern, are used to highlight and accent are equally representative of China’s conceptual aesthetic.


I couldn’t get enough of the “Anna May Wong Room.” The life of this pioneer actress is worthy of a mini series, and actual black and white film clips from her remarkable career freely roll while you wander thru a black and white space containing huge class cases of designer dresses inspired by the slinky dragon dresses worn in her early films.  Look upwards in each display case, and you will see the actual costume inspirations behind each contemporary displayed designer dress.  Again, that all the important reflection thru the looking glass suggestively defining while establishing another dimension of viewing.  This magnificent exhibit takes you well beyond the lost horizon.  Such a mesmerizing journey–as intriguing as the destination. Allow plenty of time for viewing, you are in for quite an experience and will need time to continually catch your breath while your mind expands.  Who knew?!

Would love to know…what art exhibit has left you speechless recently?  Share below!

By Joanne Theodorou

Jessica Tiare Bowen
Jessica Tiare Bowen lives in the juicy Big Apple with her adorable pink-nosed chihuahua, Gillman. He's the inspiration for her first published children's book, "Park Avenue Pound Puppy." The book is the combined result of her two greatest passions: pooches and penning stories.

Her passions include art, urban hikes through Manhattan, drinking coffee with 3 creams and 6 sugars, making extremely detailed itineraries and traveling to far away places, singing along to Broadway shows, Netflix movie nights, discovering incredible treasures at Goodwill and thrift stores, and listening to stories from little people under 7 and big people over 70.

She started her career as New York City Teaching Fellow, teaching elementary school and theater arts at a special education school in the South Bronx for 6 years. She is now a Special Education School Improvement Specialist working in public schools throughout New York City. She is the Editor-In-Chief of the online New York City travel magazine, Used York City. The magazine focuses on finding the best of New York...as used by New Yorkers. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and an ASPCA Ambassador.
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