Hover a virtual preview of Es Devlin’s exhibition design for “About Time: Fashion and Duration”
British set designer Es Devlin designed monumental concert stages for BeyoncÃ© and Lorde as well as genius theater sets for Othello at the Met Opera and Hamlet at the Barbican, among others. Devlin’s latest work does not feature musicians or actors. After months of COVID-related delays, the exhibit she designed for “About Time: Fashion and Duration” opens on October 29 at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show promises to be sensory overload, with Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman reading Virginia Woolf Orlando and Devlin’s dramatic set design creating a clock-like pathway through which visitors can explore the changing relationship of fashion to time. An animated glimpse into Devlin’s work – two interlocking clock-shaped galleries – makes its exclusive debut here.
The decision to work with Devlin came naturally; she had designed several sets for Louis Vuitton’s womenswear collections in Paris, and with the brand as the show’s sponsor, calling on a Devlin collaborator felt good. âMy favorite part of the job is collaborating with other designers outside of the curatorial field,â says Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute. âI have been fortunate enough to work with these amazing creative people, and it really moves the story of the exhibition forward.
He continues, âIt’s always important to me that an audience enjoys the exhibit, and it’s an experience for them, so we try to deliver these multisensory immersive experiences, where the installation kind of reinforces the narratives of the exposure we try to convey. In this particular case, we got to Es – I was a huge fan of her and thought I could work with her last year on ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’, but we went to a different direction.
This change of stage for “Camp” turned out to be fortuitous for “About Time”. Bolton has long had a penchant for the stage in the 1994 film version of Orlando, where Tilda Swinton, in the lead role, rushes through a labyrinth of hedges and emerges transformed through time and fashion. âI thought the idea of ââusing a maze would be a good vehicle to convey this idea of ââtime travel, and Es has made a lot of mirrored mazes, so she is very familiar with the idea,â explains- he does. They spent a week working together on a maze concept in London before COVID, but serendipity struck again. “I got a call from the Met saying the New York Fire Department stopped the idea because it was a fire hazard, if it was dead ends and people just couldn’t go out, âBolton recalls. âI said, ‘Es, why don’t we just make a clock? Immediately, because Es is so creative, she just changed her path; there was no hesitation whatsoever. She started working on this concept of a clock, and oddly enough, I think it’s better than it originally would have been.
The final design of the exhibition consists of two circular galleries that mimic a clock face, connected by a dark central track. In the first gallery, time is presented in a linear fashion through combinations of clothing arranged in a chronological chronology. At the center of the gallery is a pendulum, the ultimate reminder of the ticking of the clock, with Bolton’s style timeline from 1870 to 2020 located around the perimeter of the room. The characters seen here in the animation, quite Victorian in silhouette, nod to the pairings Bolton made with the museum‘s archives. Presenting the exhibit in this way, he explains, not only underscores the importance of the museum’s collection and the strength of a linear view of fashion, but also celebrates a curatorial style that the Met has championed at the early ’90s. âI wanted to focus on what has really been one of our major contributions to fashion conservation methodology over the years by focusing on this idea of ââjuxtaposition. The first time we did it was on a show called ‘Infra-Apparel’ in 1993; this is the first time that we have used this methodology, âhe explains.