Costume Institute Marks 400 Years

Wednesday, August 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Napoleon did not wear khakis.

Neither did Oscar Wilde, whose aphorism, ``One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,'' sets the tone for a new exhibit of fancy clothes through the ages at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.

``The general theme is people's love of decorating themselves,'' said curator Myrna Walker, who assembled the 65 gowns, coats, bodices, shoes and purses from the museum's extensive collection.

``I think there is a real craving for the sensibility of adornment. With everyone wearing black and T-shirts, this is kind of missing from our life right now,'' she said.

The exhibit, titled ``Curios and Treasures,'' opens Tuesday. While not a comprehensive overview of fashion since the Renaissance, the show offers greatest hits like a silk doublet from the 1620s, when men's clothes were as ornate as women's, and a pink Liberty & Co. dress bought by Andrew Carnegie for his wife after she had survived typhoid fever.

There are two richly embroidered men's jackets from the French court, circa 1804. We learn from the explanatory text that Napoleon revived extravagant pre-Revolutionary styles partly to boost the French fashion industry.

A maroon silk maternity dress from 1882 could be called a curio. All bustle and box pleats and dramatic drapery, it seems well designed to draw the eye away from the wearer's expanding midsection. Viewers are told that the dress ``clearly indicates that not all pregnant women were confined to the home.''

The beautiful Mariano Fortuny gowns, 1871-1949, that fill a gallery are treasures. Some display the designer's trademark pleating, which contemporary designers Mary McFadden and Issey Miyake have emulated. Others are medieval-style tunics with gold stenciling on velvet.

``His work is sort of the ultimate in the timeless classic,'' Walker said. ``You could still put on one of these and walk out the door to a party.''


``Curios and Treasures'' is at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from Aug. 15, 2000 to Jan. 21, 2001.

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