This summer was hardly short of buzzing excitement regarding special exhibitions held at museums scattered throughout the East Coast. One in particular was the exhibit “China Through the Looking Glass,” featured at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
As stated on the museum’s website, “China Through the Looking Glass” examines “the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries.” The exhibit is essentially a women’s fashion show that explores the interchange between Western and Chinese cultures through clothing and was created to showcase the mix of cultures between Europe and China starting from the 16th century. The exhibit opened on May 6 and has been reported to be one of the most popular exhibits featured in The Met to date.
Upon entering the exhibit, I was greeted by four dresses of the Mao Zedong era. Though one was clearly reminiscent of the traditional army green dress girls would wear, the other three were of avant garde fashion. One in particular was of a binary fashion with Mao Zedong’s face vertically and linearly stamped on the surface. By introducing the exhibit with the common memory of China, it leaves the visitor with a lingering reminder of the exhibit’s overall theme.
Going up to the third floor, I was immediately dazzled by the grace and beauty of the dresses that welcomed me. The first dress that caught my eye was a yellow and white dress with an eye-catching bottom. The yellow, white, and red combined with the silkiness of the dress pooled on the ground elevated the dress in elegance. In addition, the headpiece was painted with a shimmering gold, which successfully complemented its crescent moon shape. The golden crescent moon accompanied by the shades of yellow, white, and pastel was Western, as the style of the dress and the golden accessories were looser on the ends.
The porcelain room was especially stunning. Nicknamed after its use of traditional Chinese porcelain colors, it contained several breathtaking outfits. One of the dresses mirrored the structure and design of a traditional Chinese porcelain item. The bottom half of the dress was shaped into half discs with blue lining and intricate designs of flowers and ocean waves within. The method by which the dress folds had been stitched up as well as the pooling of the dress was strongly reminiscent of a traditional porcelain saucepan. It is interesting to note that even though the colors and design of the outfit were of Chinese culture, the dress itself was Western. The play between the Chinese and Western influences on the dresses signified a blurring of cultural identity.
“China Through the Looking Glass” was a beautiful and inspiring exhibit that not only featured the work of designers from name brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino, but also of the art of a variety of media. Numerous movies played in the background, such as “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.” Movies that featured the stood hidden. Again, the emphasis of the two-way interaction between Western and Chinese art was prevalent as the bamboo trees were not of the common green, but were of a bright white and clear color. The light alongside the color casted a soft glow on the models, illuminating and emphasizing their dominating presence.
Overall, “China Through the Looking Glass” was an exhibit that was both visually stunning and educational in the sense of fashion design. As the exhibit ends on Sept. 7, the visitors will miss the beautiful and intricate apparel that has come to showcase the historic exchanges between Western and Chinese culture.
Photo by Tiffany Chen ’17
Sabrina Leung ‘18 is the Digital Editor majoring in International Relations-Political Science with a minor in History. She is best reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @sabrinatzleung on Twitter.