The Costume Institute’s 2024 Show Wants You to See, Smell, Touch, and Hear Fashion

The exhibition will use technologies from scents to A.I. to create multi-sensory experiences around 250 garments.

Francesco Risso for Marni, Ensemble (2024). Courtesy Marni. Photo: © Nick Knight, 2024. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion,” the 2024 exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, promises to be a multi-sensory experience. Approximately 250 objects will be brought out from its collection, their various qualities enhanced onsite technologies.

The exhibition’s name refers to the “sleeping beauties” of the Met’s collection: garments that are so fragile that they can no longer be dressed on mannequins. They span across four centuries, and come from designers and fashion houses including Cristóbal Balenciaga, Lilly Daché, Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Loewe. Loewe’s contribution to the exhibition is a coat designed by Jonathan Anderson, made from oat, rye, and wheat grass which will slowly wilt and die during the course of the exhibition. Two examples of Charles James’s famous “Butterfly” ball gown will be included: one too delicate for display and the other in pristine condition.

A strapless ball gown in satin and tulle, with a bottom portion that splays out like the wings of a butterfly

Charles James, “Butterfly” ball gown (1955). Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“When an item of clothing enters our collection, its status is changed irrevocably. What was once a vital part of a person’s lived experience is now a motionless ‘artwork’ that can no longer be worn or heard, touched, or smelled,” said Andrew Bolton, the institute’s curator in charge, in a statement. “The exhibition endeavors to animate these artworks by re-awakening their sensory capacities through a range of technologies, affording visitors sensorial ‘access’ to rare historical garments and rarefied contemporary fashions.”

A cream ballgown by Christian Dior with floral details

Christian Dior, “May” ball gown (1953). Photo: © Nick Knight, 2024. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At the show, visitors can smell floral motifs in an exploration of the history of hats, with other scents developed by smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas. The walls of the gallery will be embossed with embroidery found on a 1615–20 waistcoat included in the exhibition, which visitors can touch and experience. An illusion technique called “Pepper’s ghost” will give visitors the opportunity to experience how women’s movement was restricted by the short-lived fashion trend of the “hobble skirt,” which peaked in popularity between 1908 and 1914.

The aural qualities of garments—notably Alexander McQueen’s famous razor clam shell dress from spring/summer 2001 and the metal designs in Marni’s spring/summer 2024 collection—will also be highlighted. Other technologies used in the show will include A.I., x-rays, video animation, and sound and light displays.

A dress designed by Iris van Herpen featuring loose billowy sections that have been painted with blue and purple patterns

Iris van Herpen, “Physalia” dress (2020). Photo: © Nick Knight, 2024. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“’Sleeping Beauties’ will heighten our engagement with these masterpieces of fashion, by evoking what it was like to feel, move, hear, smell, and interact with them when they could be worn,” said Max Hollein, the Met’s director and CEO.

The garments and accessories will also be brought together by a theme of nature to further emphasize their transience and changeability. The exhibition will be split into three distinct areas, namely earth, air, and water, to explore how these elements have inspired fashion motifs and trends.

A black coat by Loewe stuck with living grass.

Jonathan Anderson, Coat, (2023). Courtesy Loewe. Photo: © Nick Knight, 2024. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The theme will echo that of the Costume Institute Benefit, better known as the Met Gala—its dress code this year is “The Garden of Time.” A fixture on art and fashion calendars, the gala happens as always on the first Monday of May, and will be co-chaired this year by Bad Bunny, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Wintour, and Zendaya. The event’s decorative centerpiece, installed in the Met’s Great Hall, will be unveiled during the gala and remain on view through May 7, before “Sleeping Beauties” opens on May 10.

“By appealing to the widest possible range of human senses,” said Bolton, “the show aims to reconnect with the works on display as they were originally intended—with vibrancy, with dynamism, and ultimately with life.”

A short dress designed by Sarah Burton covered entirely in orange butterfly wings, with a group of butterflies at the neck

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, Dress (2011). Photo: © Nick Knight, 2024. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave, New York, May 10–September 2.

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