China:Through the Looking Glass-A Do-Not-Miss Exhibit

Even the most jaded museum attendee will marvel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibit, which comes off like an extravaganza. Here the influence of China on Western fashion is showcased. East combined with West makes dressing more like theater than simply covering the body for the sake of modesty or warmth.

"China: Through the Looking Glass" is at the Chinese Galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until August 17, 2015

A semiformal robe for the Qianlong emperor 1735-1795 on the left and a Yves Saint Laurent/Tom Ford evening dress, autumn/winter 2004-2005, on the right.

Even the most jaded museum attendee will marvel at this exhibit, which comes off like an extravaganza. As the location suggests, it weaves through not only the costume center but also the Chinese galleries. Here the influence of China on Western fashion is showcased. East combined with West makes dressing more like theater than simply covering the body for the sake of modesty or warmth. Clothing turns into costumes. Clearly, the outfits were meant only for the very rich. But, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t enjoy them in this display.

Theatrical costume for the Qianlong emperor 1735-1795 in the center and Yves Saint Laurent/Tom Ford evening dress 2011-2015 on the left. A mirrored reflection of the mannequin is to the right and to its back.

Since China was first penetrated by Europeans for purpose of trade in the 1500s, the goods from that country have been treated with reverence in the west; think tea, silk, and porcelain. Now, the silk is taking center stage in this show that relates fashion in the West to elaborate fabrics from the East. Famous designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, and John Galliano are featured. Earlier couture creators such as Paul Poiret used inspiration from China as well.

A representative scene from one of several movies about China featured as part of the displays.

The exhibit is both upstairs and downstairs. We started in the lower area, the old costume institute now known as the Anna Wintour Costume Center. It is entered through the Egyptian Wing. In this section, we lost ourselves in a theatrical world enhanced by scenes from movies about China projected on the wall. They were rich in mood and the opulent clothing on beautiful Oriental people—a kind of inside look for Westerners.

One of the many blue and white dresses in the Blue and White section mean to emulate Chinese blue and white porcelain.

As we ascended from this fantasy land, we were heartbroken when we thought there was nothing more to see. But, on the main level, we found more practical outfits inspired by China. Then, we were directed to the upper floor where extravagant couture was again on display. Few attendees would feel tired. The beauty before our eyes was all-engrossing. We were like Alice in Wonderland with the finest of visons before us.

A more practical ensemble by Vivienne Westwood Spring/Summer 2012.

The exhibit that as one label said, “…allows the wearer to fabricate an alternate identity through the process of cultural displacement” started May 7 and continues through August 16. This is also true of the gift shop associated with the show. It has fine products from China and elsewhere, most fairly priced and some difficult to find elsewhere. All of this means that for those that love costume, theater and China, there couldn’t be a better entertainment choice.

Black and white ensembles among a forest of clear poles emulating bamboo was a dramatic ending to an already exquisite exhibit.