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Review: The First Monday in May

Roslyn Hull

This film tells the entwined stories of the development of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) costume exhibition China Through the Looking Glass and the 2015 ‘Met Gala’, the fundraising event themed to the exhibition, aimed at raising funds for the Costume Institute at the museum.

I was captivated by this documentary.

My intellect kept niggling about skewed narratives and editing to tell a story but my heart just kept telling it to be quiet and get out of the way! I now have a crush on Andrew Bolton and am beginning to suspect Anna Wintour may be my spirit animal.

Allow me to explain the second statement first: Ms. Wintour is a force of nature. She has had part of the Costume Institute, the Anna Wintour Costume Center, named after her – and opened by Michelle Obama no less – not just because she is THE voice of American fashion but because she has raised more money for the Institute than any other two (maybe even three) patrons they have had.

She takes fashion very seriously (love that). She has made her armour out of sunglasses and sensational tailoring and her face gives away as much as the Sphinx does. She allowed an interview during this film on her opinion of The Devil Wears Prada (based on her and written by an ex-assistant) and remained classy about the whole thing. However, she also lets her devil show through – skewering a Chinese journalist with a look and dismissing their question with a flick of the wrist. And don’t get her started on the H&M table!

She is focussed on, and involved in, every aspect of her multiple roles as Vogue editor, Institute patron and hostess of New York’s biggest party … and she is constantly filmed with a coffee the size of your average milkshake in her hand. Where can I get one of those in Canberra?

In my day-to-day life I work in the museum sector so I was not just in awe of La Wintour, I also found myself warming to Andrew Bolton in a big way. A gawky Lancastershire boy who fell into fashion via the New Romantics movement (love that music) he has always dreamt of curating the fashion collection at the Met. And now he does.

He is both an enfant terrible who pushed to have a retrospective of Alexander McQueen’s work unfashionably soon after his death and a sweet, floppy-haired academic who seems to dress exclusively in his boyfriend’s label.

I want to meet him, I want to discuss his fusion of fashion, social history, celluloid muses (particularly director Kar-Wai Wong) and his exhibition style of sensory landscaping. I want to listen to him speak on the thought processes he went through to develop the China exhibition … and then I want to ask the hard questions about cultural sensitivity and appropriation that this film glances over.

There is one contemporary Chinese designer featured, Guo Pei, (whose gown is to die for) who tellingly says she feels she is making ‘a wedding dress for her whole country’.

These few quibbles aside, the finished film is exquisite to look at and the celebrities depicted a wicked treat to watch. The gowns are amazing and if you, like me, are both a student of fashion history and a fashion tragic, you will be mesmerised.

PS – There are some great images of both the exhibition couture and the guests at the Gala on Nick-from-Project-Runway’s blogspot and on this Pinterest board.

Long live significant frocks I say!

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Dendy Cinemas Canberra.


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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