How the Met reawakens fashion in 2024: technology beyond the looking glass


This month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, also known colloquially as “the Met”, announced the theme of the Costume Institute’s Spring 2024 Exhibition: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.”

For those interested in fashion – designers, scholars, journalists, entrepreneurs, and, fashionistas – every year’s announcement is a highly-anticipated moment. One reason is that this theme will also be featured in the Costume Institute Benefit, an evening the entire fashion industry and beyond will be waiting for and watching closely, also known as the Met Gala.

From 1971’s “fashion plate” to 2023’s “Karl Lagerfeld: a line of beauty”

The Met has been hosting annual galas since 1971, with a different theme carefully conceptualized by the Costume Institute each year. The first theme in 1971 was “fashion plate”. The most recent theme, in 2023, was “Karl Lagerfeld: a line of beauty”.  For me, the Met Costume Institute’s exhibitions have been an informative and inspiring learning experience. Over the years, by visiting these wonderful events, with annual themes such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, and Manus x Machina, I have been amazed by the intellectual depth, societal impact, and, the sheer beauty, of fashion, created by some of the greatest minds of all time.

The vision for 2024: more than a trip down memory lane

For the 2024 exhibition, the Met’s press release states: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion will make use of first-hand research, conservation analysis, and diverse technologies – from cutting-edge tools, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and computer-generated imagery to traditional formats of x-rays, video animation, light projection, and soundscapes – to reactivate the sensory capacities of masterworks in the Museum’s collection. Approximately 250 garments and accessories spanning four centuries will be on view, visually united by iconography related to nature, which will serve as a metaphor for the fragility and ephemerality of fashion”. The garments exhibited will include masterpieces by Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, etc.

Technology as reawakening

One aspect of the 2024 exhibition which I find particularly intriguing is technology. Technology has a pivotal role in fashion. In recent years, the influence of technology, especially digital technology, has been changing and growing. One example: the 2024 exhibition is sponsored by TikTok. Initially seemingly poles apart, social media and high fashion in recent year appear to have a convergence. In many ways, social media has increasingly become the looking glass (borrowing the Met’s 2015 theme) through which the world, especially younger generations, access fashion. Meanwhile, technology has evolved beyond the looking glass. How social media, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies can shape individuals’ and societies’ perception and experience of fashion, and how such perception and experience in turn shape fashion, is a fascinating question with ever-changing answers.

However, one thing is certain: for the Met’s 2024 exhibition, technology needs to realize the reawakening. How will the reawakening look and feel? We will know in the first Monday of May.

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  • Yixuan Niu |

    As a fervent observer of Western fashion and Hollywood glamour, my journey of following the Met Gala has been nothing short of a revelation. Initially, my interest was piqued by iconic figures like Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga, who never fail to captivate the audience with their daring, often exaggerated attire. I vividly recall Jared Leto’s creative twist last year, fashioning himself as a cat—a stroke of genius in the world of high fashion.
    However, my understanding of the Met Gala was initially superficial; I perceived it merely as a glorified runway show, a spectacle of celebrities in flamboyant outfits. It was through Teacher Su’s insightful article that I gained a deeper appreciation of this event. The Met Gala is not just about the glitz and glam; it’s a convergence of art, history, and now, intriguingly, technology.
    This year’s theme, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion,” promises to infuse new life into fashion by harnessing the power of technology. The use of augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and various multimedia formats in the exhibition is a testament to how fashion is evolving beyond traditional boundaries. It’s a reminder that fashion is not just about garments; it’s a living, breathing entity that continues to grow and adapt in the digital era.
    Moreover, the collaboration with TikTok for the 2024 exhibition highlights the increasingly symbiotic relationship between social media and high fashion. The idea that fashion is now accessible through the ‘looking glass’ of social media resonates deeply with me. It’s a shift from just viewing fashion to experiencing it in a more immersive, personalized way.
    Teacher Su’s article has expanded my horizon. I now see the Met Gala not just as a showcase of extravagant outfits but as a platform where art, history, and technology intertwine to redefine fashion. This year’s exhibition, with its emphasis on technology as a means of ‘reawakening,’ is poised to offer an unprecedented experience. The anticipation for the first Monday of May is palpable, and I can’t wait to witness this revolutionary fusion of fashion and technology at the Met Gala.

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