China: Through the Looking Glass At the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Within the last month, all the talk was and is still about the Met Gala and Vogue Magazine’s fashion party of the year, that introduced the new amazing exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, titled China: Through the Looking Glass. It was such a pleasurable experience to see it and I got a personal guided tour by my family member, who will remain nameless and happens to work there. I have to say that I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful family member, he was so knowledgeable and patient with me taking multiple pictures of everything and revisiting all the different rooms, without the flash of course, which I was very sad about. But that didn’t take away from the beauty of what I went to see, the exhibition is until August 16th. If you are in New York during this summer, in my opinion, it’s a must see! The exhibition is a massive three floors full, so wear comfortable shoes!

This exhibition explores the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries. In this collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, high fashion is juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, including films, to reveal enchanting reflections of Chinese imagery.

From the earliest period of European contact with China in the sixteenth century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make-believe. Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.

The exhibition features more than 140 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Filmic representations of China are incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are framed by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which to understand the richness of Chinese history.

Now with that eloquent and beautiful description, you know there will be clothing to match right? The first gallery we entered is named “Wuxia” and is designed to resemble a futuristic light up bamboo forest with Buddhas and clothing from modern designers in black and white.

The next gallery is titled “Ancient China” and it is represented by a lot of dark colors, dragons, jewels, earthen pottery and natural fibers.

The next gallery is dedicated to the Lotus Blossom dress by Guo Pei, which has to be extremely heavy because it stood up stiff on its own, it was also the most Western-looking piece of art as well. It looked like an extravagant wedding dress. It is named the Lotus Blossom dress because of the flower’s significance in Buddhism as a flower of enlightenment and purity.

China: Through the Looking Glass , Guo Pei
China: Through the Looking Glass, Guo Pei

Anna May Wong was the subject of the next gallery. Anna May Wong (Huang Liushuang) was a Chinese American actress who played stereotypical characters in Hollywood, she became tired of the racism and limits put on her in the United States and moved to Europe, where she flourished. She wore beautiful dresses that were either for her Dragon Lady roles or when she played the fair Lotus Blossom fantasy.


The designer Yves Saint Laurent had a whole gallery dedicated to his collection in 1977, Opium, which he also named a perfume after. The collection was opulent and over the top with reds, blacks, golds, leather, and furs.

The perfume was the subject of the next two galleries, the exoticism of China put into scents and the artistry of the bottles and physical presentation.

Blue and white porcelain was the center of one of the most popular stops in the exhibition, it is carried from the pottery to the dresses seamlessly. There was a dress made of pottery as well, it made me laugh, like a  weird Disney character.

The next three galleries focused on artistic materials, silk, and calligraphy. Silk export form materials to make clothes and painted wallpaper. Ink to write Chinese characters as communication and used as a form of art on clothing and as a pattern on mass made material.

“The Moon in the Water” gallery was surreal and ridiculously beautiful. It is a recreation of a pagoda garden under a gorgeous full moon over a pond of black lacquer interwoven with mannequins dressed in the finest gowns. The video of the moon projected on the ceiling would ripple and change from a blue moon to a red moon. It was so calming it makes you want to sit and stare.

Ming furniture was the focus of the room next to the pagoda garden, everything was in red, the Chinese color of good fortune and happiness.

Manchu Robe is the most luxurious gallery because of the amount of detail of the work in the pieces. Each emperors robe is placed next to a modern interpretation of the work. Like I said earlier but the lack of flash really takes some of the detail out of the pictures.

Hu Die ( Butterfly Wu) gallery is about the integration of the qipao into western fashion in the 1930’s and the allure of the simplicity as portrayed in films of the 50’s and 60’s.

A video from the Met website explains and puts curator of the exhibition thoughts behind the process.

I’m going to try to see it again before it closes out on August 16th. What do you think of the exhibition? Would you go and see it?

Until our next rendezvous …



Rendezvous en New York

18 thoughts on “China: Through the Looking Glass At the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  1. I would totally go see this and probably spend hours taking it all in… My favourite of your galleries is the blue and white porcelain (STUNNING(, but they’re all so lovely. Especially the embroidered silk. It looks amazing.

    1. It was all so beautiful, I was so tempted to touch every one of those because they weren’t behind glass. The alarms kept going off in the Manchu Robe room because women kept leaning towards the clothing.

    1. It was hard to show just how beautiful everything was without using flash. If you watched the video it’s probably a better view. If you visit before August you can see it for yourself! Maybe?

                1. If you mean close to Manhattan ? Then no. It’s a train ride to Brooklyn and Coney Island, where the closest beach is , but there are man-made beaches all over actually and Manhattan is surrounded by water , so there are cruises on the water all day long. There are also lots of beaches in Queens, so it depends where you choose to stay. Since NYC is pretty big you can spend a couple of days in each neighborhood. I’m not sure how well you know New York City, have you visited before?

                  1. Ohh wow! That sounds amazing! Are the man made beaches just as good? I did visit NYC a few years ago but it was winter, so we didn’t get to see much of the beach. I really want to go back during the spring/ summer though!

                    1. I haven’t gone to one yet because I live near a natural beach but I will look into it for you. Oh it’s beautiful here during the winter.

What do you think? I would like to know.

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