Yield to Art in Transit (Documentary Review: “The First Monday in May”)

A fascinating insider’s tour of the most illustrious fashion show on earth, The First Monday in May once and for all settles the Is-Fashion-Art? debate, elegantly of course.

SnapShot Plot

In this brilliantly conceived and gorgeously shot documentary, director Andrew Rossi peeks under the hem of haute couture as it pleats seamlessly with the art world, in a dazzling annual event at the renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

At the museum, among the myriad period installations and exhibits of art objects reflected throughout history, there exists deep in the bowels of the building a thriving team of experts and restorers who support the Met’s Costume Institute. Reformed from its 1937 roots as a fully curated part of the Met in 1959, today The Costume Institute is in effect the largest repository of fashion in the world. Financially funded by the fashion industry which it celebrates, each year on the first Monday in May the museum closes its doors to the general public to stage an intimate fundraiser known as the Met Gala. It has become the singular most chic party on the planet, or as Vogue’s John Powers wrote, “ the fashion world’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.” The Met Gala is not only a fundraiser but a kick-off event to the museum’s annual fashion exhibition, which in the past has celebrated: Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (2008), and PUNK: Chaos to Couture (2013). Some monographic exhibitions have included Chanel (2005), Poiret: King of Fashion(2007), and the blockbuster Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), which broke all attendance records for past exhibits.

The First Monday in May meticulously follows two British dynamos, Andrew Bolton (recently named the Curator in Charge at The Costume Institute, whose brainchild was the Savage Beauty exhibition) and the imperious legend herself, Anna Wintour (famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film, The Devil Wears Prada) for eight months as they plan both the Gala and the new exhibition, both entitled “China: Through The Looking Glass,” an exploration of Chinese-inspired Western fashions through history. Anna Wintour is the longtime chair of the Met Gala, and still serves as the Artistic Director of Condé Nast and the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. If for no other reason, The First Monday in May offers a delightfully ‘ insider’ glimpse into Wintour, revealing both the ice queen at her level-gazing best and the more intimate Wintour at home with her dog, making coffee and (heavens!) wearing jeans. Mostly, though, the film is a lesson in endurance, tenacity, hard work and an almost slavish attention to detail . . . to ‘ getting it right’.

When the eight-month pressure cooker deadline is upon us, it’s been after countless planning meetings and trips to London, Paris, and Beijing, not to mention the most glorious costumes, gowns and dresses which are unpacked, restored and staged. When the Met Gala finally takes place, it’s an incredible star-studded guest list that includes the likes of Clooney, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Alicia Keys and Jean-Paul Gaultier just to name a few. In a word, magical.



Parting Shot

Andrew Rossi, best known for the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, has successfully captured the love and respect which the art world and the fashion world have for the artists and designers whose work expresses the most profound beauty and sublime influence over the ages. As for the prickly question of whether Fashion should stay relegated to the genre of Decorative Arts (a purely 19th Century conceit) or whether it should take its place at the table of High Art, the film makes its point every time it showcases an extraordinary example of fashion at its finest. The message is clear: how can we not call something Art when to behold it, never mind wear it, makes the heart pound with excitement?

The First Monday in May is presently streaming on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRFCVG85X_s

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