Coming to The Met’s Costume Institute, ‘Women Dressing Women’

“Kinshasa” dress, Anifa Mvuemba (American, born Kenya, 1990) for Hanifa (American, founded 2012), fall/winter 2020–21 “Pink Label Congo;” Purchase, Millia Davenport and Zipporah Fleisher Fund, 2023

Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The exhibition will take place across many of the Costume Institute’s galleries in chronological order, from the anonymous dressmakers of the early 20th century to the designers who worked in Paris for the women of society through the globalization and democratization of fashion that began in the 1960s and remains still to this day. Included are women like Adèle Henriette Nigrin Fortuny—wife of Mariano Fortuny and an experienced dressmaker who helped construct his designs and was instrumental in the creation of his famed Delphos pleated gown, first introduced in 1909—as well as Ann Lowe, an African American woman born in Alabama in 1898 the granddaughter of an enslaved woman and a plantation owner, who went on to become a celebrated fashion designer in the early 20th century and who created Jacqueline Kennedy’s gown for her wedding to John F. Kennedy. That is one of the most influential dresses on one of the most iconic women in American history, yet its maker has not become a household name despite the cult status surrounding the creation, even as now we live in a culture that thrives on unearthing and celebrating these unsung heroes.

Huber’s statement continued, “In recognizing that the contributions of women to fashion are unquantifiable, our intention with this show is to celebrate and acknowledge through a focus on the Costume Institute’s permanent collection, which represents a rich timeline of Western fashion history. We hope that this exhibition will foster impactful conversations between our visitors and across the designers’ larger bodies of work, highlighting the plurality and diversity of women’s important contributions to the field.”

Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at the Costume Institute, doubled down on that sentiment. “Women have been instrumental to the success of the Costume Institute since its inception—its founding members include several inspiring women—and the department remains dedicated to recognizing the artistic, technical, and social achievements of women. We look forward to this opportunity to honor many of the designers, donors, and scholars who have contributed to shaping the Costume Institute and, more broadly, the history of fashion.”

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