The beauty of impermanence in artistry that metaphorically echoes the delicacy of nature and humanity is being celebrated. The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” captures ephemerality and preservation in fashion, featuring 220 garments and accessories that are now too delicate to be worn.

“The exhibition endeavors to reanimate these artworks by reawakening their sensory capacities through a diverse range of technologies, affording visitors sensorial ‘access’ to rare historical garments and rarefied contemporary fashions,” said Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Met. The gallery mimics a garden and features a greenhouse of floral headpieces. In addition, a mix of artificial intelligence (AI), x-rays, videos, scent-and-soundscapes are used to reanimate the garments that span five centuries. From May 10 through September 2, 2024, visitors can explore the reawakened precious artifacts that the museum hopes to revive through the exhibition.

Every year, the prestigious Met Gala is held to launch The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition. Held on the evening of May 6, 2024, selected A-listers attended the fundraising gala dressed to the theme of “The Garden of Time” inspired by the J.G. Ballard short story of the same name. Bolton explains, “it is very much an ode to nature and the emotional poetics of fashion.”

The evening saw a sea of florals, fairytale and nature-inspired gowns descend the red carpet. Some stand-out outfits included musician Tyla wearing Balmain’s dress made from sand, that altered its form throughout the evening as the sand crumbled away. Due to its fragility, Tyla had to be carried up the stairs to the Met. And actress Elle Fanning donned a delicate glass-like sculptural dress featuring two songbirds appearing to hold up the garment; another Balmain creation, the off-the-shoulder wrap bodice is actually made of organza, with layers of resin to achieve the glass-like effect.

WEB Condollence 1
Condollence. Concept, design and tailoring by Darío Simón Abelló. Photographed at HFBK Photo Studio.

Meanwhile, Spanish costume designer Darío Simón Abelló has been exploring volatile materials that change their form when worn. In February 2023, the young artist showcased the Condollence collection at the HFBK 2023 annual graduate exhibition in Hamburg, featuring garments dipped in wax that cracked and crumbled when worn, leaving a trail on the catwalk and changing the outfit’s shape. Abelló calls these “shattering garments,” and aims to delve into the “fragility and vulnerability” in fashion and humanity.

New York-based fashion designer Prabal Gurung explored the Buddhist concept of “anichya,” or impermanence, for his fall 2023 ready-to-wear collection. “This collection is a spiritual awakening through the lens of impermanence and metamorphosis—the ideas that nothing is fixed and all are constantly in flux,” Gurung says. “Change provokes a sense of optimism, that everything is ever evolving. This is the beauty of impermanence that rather than fear it, one must embrace it.”

The fragility of nature and humanity is being reflected in fashion and reinvigorated by artists, showcasing these delicate artifacts and breathing newfound appreciation and life into them.

Main image: Gallery View, Reseda Luteola. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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