In a major departure from traditional costume and fashion exhibitions, this year's presentation at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute is "Superheroes - Fashion and Fantasy". For those of you who have trouble with the notion of comic books and their relationship to fashion, join the club! I can't say that the concept was particularly enticing to me, but I felt I should give it a chance. After all, The Costume Institute has presented radical shows in the past with resounding success, and with the Met's resources and creativity maybe they could pull it off.
The premise of the exhibition requires some imagination. The curators postulate that since the appearance of Superman in 1938, the superhero has assumed mythical proportions in its influence over the general public's hopes, dreams and desires. So much so, that the superhero, by virtue of its very superficiality, impacts society's social and political realities. They further state that as both fashion and superheroes have constantly changing ideals, this active, ongoing metamorphosis provides the opportunity for us to constantly remake and reinvent ourselves, thereby fulfilling our fantasies.
To illustrate this position, the exhibition is divided into 8 sections, each with a superhero costume surrounded by fashion creations by various current designers who found inspiration in the character. For example, "The Graphic Body" focused on Spiderman, with the original movie costume and spiderweb-inspired styles by Gautrier, Galliano and Armani. "The Paradoxical Body" had the Catwoman as its star and displayed the costume worn by Michelle Pfeiffer in the Batman movie alongside similar creations by Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace. Or "The Mutant Body", like the X-Men, with exaggerated "mutant" designs by Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen.
The very last part of the show looked at "Art and the Comic Book" with the obvious reference to Pop Art and Andy Warhol and a few vintage covers on display.
For those of us who read the comic books and watched the movies and television series', this show is a sort of nostalgia for childhood heroes. But even the most die hard superhero devotee will have a hard time associating The Hulk with what Bloomingdale's is going to show in its 2008 Winter collection. "Superheroes - Fashion and Fantasy" is on view until September 1.