The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
3 May-4 September 2006
The myth began once upon a time in the midst of the Enlightenment, when England was perceived as 'a land of reason, freedom, and tolerance' and drove Voltaire to exclaim, 'If ever I come a second time on Earth, I will pray God to make me born in England, the Land of Liberty'. Presumably, he was happy enough that his first life on earth was set in France, though, and one can see why from the little Francomania accessory to the wider exhibition in the 'Croome Court Room, Worcestershire, ca. 1771', which shows tapestries woven at the royal Gobelins Manufactory in Paris. The Earl's wife had a fetish for all things français, and enjoyed wearing couture from the marchands de modes on the rue Saint-Honoré, pieces of which drape the mannequins. The roots of modern French influence in British fashion are traced back to the House of Worth, whose clothes were characterised by Parisian elegance, the romance of France romanticised further by the dreams and ideals of the British designers. These days, British designer, John Galliano, follows the pattern by designing the Dior collection and, in so doing, translates the Paris he perceives with the outsider's subjective romanticism into frills and fun of the highest order. England and France have traditionally played games of vanity with one another, especially in the 18th century: the English wore idealistic couture of the French, and the French wore Anglomanic creations in turn. They waltz together in a ballroom decorated with mirrors, and as they dance, they catch their own reflections in the mirrored décor, slightly more interested in the spectacle they create with each turn, rather than each other. They court one another, that is all.
The court, of course, is the game at play here. It has shifted setting - from the palace to the Metropolitan - but it remains the same. As displayed by such princesses and eccentrics of the modern age, including Kate Moss, Vivienne Westwood, Lindsey Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sophie Dahl and Sienna Miller at the Costume Institute Ball, the art gallery is New York's answer to the palace - or at least one of its answers - and, appropriately, that is where its 'royalty' court the attention of the press. New York has invited England to the Metropolitan - a lovely exchange from one island to another - and 'AngloMania' is a kiss-kiss as part of their romantic bond.
English wit sparkles in the conversation and commentary, and New York responds with a fluttering giggle. Part of the joke is that although France is mentioned in a little Francomania vignette of the museum, it is dismissed rather than embraced, and there really aren't that many French people around. France and England have always acted as each other's particular companions in the world's masquerade, but it seems from this exhibition that New York has stolen England's affections for a while. In the wider world of fashion and society, New York and England now share a closer bond than England and France. Society girls would rather flick through American Vogue for an education in manners than actually have to learn grammar. Shoes or verbs? That is the question. The pretty shoes hardly touch the ground for all the dancing they do.
'AngloMania' is the obsession with Englishness - although a fever provoked by grounded realities is a mania mostly of the mind, a fever of nerves, a pretty madness, a fictive flourish … Englishness is a myth, a mutual fantasy whose ideals are attune with one another. As 'The Hunt Ball' section suggests, British style and couture also react to political dramas, gelling in seductive antagonism with the mannequins bearing punk-ish attire, shouting that whether in high society or low society, subversion is the fun to be had. The central irony of British fashion, and British society at large, is that the factions possess the same style, the same glare and the same pout, inherent in all the fox fur and chains of generations.
Whether for a punk or a princess, British fashion is much more than frills and frolics; it encompasses every nuance of the masquerade and rebellion ongoing in British society at every level, excluding perhaps the bourgeoisie. Britishness, that self-affirming glance in the mirror at one's undeniable beauty, is a reaction to the horrible rain, the nauseating shade of grey the sky insists on wearing and those mean dregs of humanity who just have a thing against the upper classes. It is make-up and make-believe painted prettily on the face of adversity. It is a gin-in-teacups and mud-on-lace kind of style that attracts Anglophiles as the years roll by, and shows no sign of ever going out of vogue. The myth will not be dismissed. The myth is here to stay, because New York says it is. Kiss kiss.
Douglas Gordon: Superhumanatural
The film and video artist Douglas Gordon had his first one-man exhibition in Britain at the Lisson Gallery in 1994, sponsored by its perceptive director Nicholas Logsdail, to which he returned again in 2001. The following year, he was to exhibit 'Entre'Act 3' at the Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. 'Fuzzy Logic' followed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and from about this time his work really took off internationally.
Cream Rising to the Top. 100 Dresses by The Costume Institute/The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In his preface to this collaboration between the Met and Yale University Press, Met Costume Institute Curator in Charge Harold Koda says that, for all of their historical, technical and sociological import, the garments selected for 100 Dresses are subjective choices made by Costume Institute staff.
Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) has, in many ways, been forgotten outside of Paris, and to those who have studied his work, he is often described as a relatively unimportant architect in comparison with Le Corbusier and other modernists. At the Pompidou Centre, in summer 2005, his work was resurrected from the dust and given the platform to be criticised afresh. Sixty years after his death at the end of World War Two, he has finally been given a wider audience.
Lawn Road Flats
There is a beautiful film called 'England: Home and Beauty' that is a testament to the glamour of the 1920s and 1930s. In it, young elegant women wearing long, sleek evening dresses arrive home late at night, alighting from their Bentleys and Lagondas and entering their flat-roofed homes built in white concrete, steel and glass - many of which are not unlike the transatlantic liners which completed the crossing from Southampton to New York in under ten days.