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With Help From Animation, AI, and an Olfactory Artist, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” Is Bringing Rarely Seen Pieces to Life

On arriving at the show, visitors will first see a Brancusi bronze placed into dialogue with the Worth sleeping beauty. A contemporary garment that the Worth dress helped to inspire—an Alessandro Michele piece for Gucci—will be displayed nearby. Visitors will progress into a space filled with botanicals on painted silk—a Chinese technique imitated by Europeans in the 18th century and updated by Mary Katrantzou, whose garment is nearby. A small room that follows will be devoted to warp printing, a technique with a beautiful out-of-­focus effect on patterning and images, echoed by a lenticular hologram.

From there, Bolton says one morning in the museum, rushing around with growing excitement, the exhibition blooms into its naturalistic themes. A room devoted to touch features a Miss Dior dress created by Raf Simons in 2013, with a touchable scale model. Next comes the Van Gogh room, centered on a Saint Laurent jacket inspired by the artist’s painting of irises, put into dialogue with Rodarte’s dress inspired by Van Gogh’s sunflowers, and the poppy room, centering on Isaac Mizrahi’s bleeding poppy dress, inspired by the work of Irving Penn. The poppies lead to daisies embroidered on an intricate 18th-century French court suit; the daisies lead to Spitalfields silks, shown with a projection of the original botanical watercolors on which they were modeled; the Spitalfields lead on to tulips, roses, and what Bolton calls a “garden room.”

And on it goes, through dresses of Chinese silk as yellow as the sun; a surprisingly wide selection of beetle-​related fashion, including early-​plastic necklaces by Schiaparelli; and a room of snake style, animated with terrifying videos. As Bolton elaborates the immersive world of cutting-edge technology he is building to recover the lost experiences of the past, he is seemingly impressed less by the ambitious scale of the exhibition than by the possibilities of future work that it has opened up. “It’s a very humbling show to work on,” he says. “It makes you realize how little you are.”

In this story: hair, Guido; hair colorist, @lenaott; makeup, Dame Pat McGrath; manicurist, Jin Soon Choi; tailor, Carol Ai.

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