Friday, 07 October 2016

The First Monday in May

A suitably fabulous behind-the-scenes look at the Met Gala, and a stellar exhibition

Written by Jason Solomons

Everyone knows the first Monday in May is Met Gala Day, don’t they? It’s the first little red circle I put in my diary every year.

Not really. But it’s indicative of the fashion event’s grand sense of self-importance that the title of this fabulous documentary should accord it the stature of a national holiday.

The Met Gala is the glittering, celebrity-studded event held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where names from fashion, pop and Hollywood rub shoulders with other very rich people (it’s where Taylor Swift met Tom Hiddleston). I’ve seen the pictures, but I never knew the whole thing was a fundraiser for the Met Museum’s Costume Institute.

In 2015, the Gala raised funds for and showcased the Institute’s risky blockbuster exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, and the film takes us behind the scenes for a year as various people fuss and fret about bringing the two events together to open at the same time.

Brit Andrew Bolton is the new young star of museum exhibitions, having devised, in 2011, the brilliant Alexander McQueen show Savage Beauty. We get to know Andrew quite well here, and though he apparently never wears any socks, he seems a pleasant, steely sort of chap who is literally living out his teenage dream. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

China: Through the Looking Glass is to be his most ambitious project, and we follow him on visits to fashion greats – including the pariah John Galliano – and into the Yves Saint Laurent storage cupboard in Paris. Poor Andrew is practically shaking. Maybe socks would help. Putting together the show is a huge operation. Andrew gets in filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood For Love) as artistic adviser, and they make an odd pair. He walks a fine tightrope, negotiating like fury with various factions, yet employing a statesmanlike diplomacy.

Although the Costume Institute is a bit looked-down-upon in the Met hierarchy, the old arguments about whether fashion can be art pale into insignificance when you see the beauty of the work here. What’s also fascinating is the tension between respecting orientalism and ‘Disney– fying’ it. There’s a touchy moment about putting images of Chairman Mao in a roomful of Buddhas.

Meanwhile, preparations are afoot for the ball and who shall go to it. Presiding over this uber-party is Vogue editor Anna Wintour. She breezes through the film like an icy blast, tutting and bobbing and telling people what to do, brilliantly decisive and immaculately tasteful. She only has to shoot a Mary Poppins look at an offensive rail of clothes or some unpalatable item of foyer furniture for it to be whisked away.

Whenever she wobbles, the Gala’s creative director Baz Luhrmann is there to add a dash of camp flattery or change the colour of the napkins. ‘If it takes Rihanna dancing on a table to raise attention, then so be it,’ says Baz. And they get what they want, at twice the price – but my, the girl looks amazing on the red carpet.

I did love this film. It’s nice and bitchy, particularly during the table- plan skirmishing: ‘Harvey won’t like being sat there. Anne Hathaway? Really? God, Josh Hartnett? What’s he done lately?’ And then we learn Anna’s sat herself between George Clooney and Bradley Cooper.

It all looks totes a-may-zing: the giant vase made out of 250,000 blue and white roses, the costumes dotted among ancient statues, the Plexiglas-rod bamboo forest. We even get to go round the exhibits with Jean Paul Gaultier, which is hilarious: ‘Oooh, les porcelaines!’

Director Andrew Rossi whooshes us along for the ride, but at the same time, you feel the pull of Pop and Art, the friction between commerce and aesthetic. All around there is a dedication to rigorous technique, be it in the stitch of a sequin, the choice of a film clip or the placing of a celebrity on the right table.

So. Do I get an invite for next year?

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