On this day … 5/4/2015

A Brief History of the Costume InstituteAll About the 2015 Met Ball Lineup

Designer Valentino at the 1980 gala, celebrating the opening of The Manchu Dragon-Costumes of China exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Getty Images

On May 4, 2015, fashion’s elite will walk the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Benefit, known to the world at large as the Met Ball.

The ultra-exclusive event—often referred to as “The Party of the Year”—generates millions of dollars for the institute’s popular exhibitions, which have in recent years included “Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations,” and “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.”

Fashion has never been more ingrained in popular culture than it is today, and the Costume Institute’s most important shows—which typically attract between and 500,000 and 600,000 people over a three-month period—have played a significant role in introducing clothes-as-art to the masses.

Irene Lewisohn founded what was first known as the Museum of Costume Art in 1937. An heiress and philanthropist who spent much of her time in the theater, Lewisohn’s own closet of costumes was the starting point. (The collection now boasts more than 35,000 pieces.) In 1946, the museum moved from Lewisohn’s home library to the Met. The first exhibit, organized by executive director Polaire Weissman, was a series of nine tableaux: the 49 costumes were paired with furniture and accessories from the Met and the Museum of the City of New York.

The parties began in 1948, as the Costume Institute has always relied on the fashion industry’s financial and vocal support in order to thrive. Legendary fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, who also curated the opening exhibition, chaired the first event. The tickets were $50, a bargain compared to the purported $25,000 it cost to attend the benefit in 2014.


Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the 1979 gala, Fashions of the Hapsburg Era. Photo: Getty Images

Over the years, displaying clothes alongside other sorts of objects and art distinguished the Costume Institute’s exhibitions. In 1972, the already-popular department was set to rise in profile even further, thanks to the appointment of former Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland as special consultant. “She was the ultimate storyteller,” says Lisa Immordino Vreeland, director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.

Immordino Vreeland is married to Diana Vreeland’s grandson, although she never met the editor. She did, however, spend three years researching her life’s work for the aforementioned 2012 documentary.  The director recalls Vreeland traveling with her friend Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Russia in order to procure Peter the Great’s boots. They were for her 1976 exhibit, The Glory of Russian Costume. “A similar iteration of the show went to Paris and London, but Mrs. Vreeland was able to get things these other exhibitions never could,” says Harold Koda, chief curator at the Costume Institute, who first worked there as an assistant under Vreeland.  For example, Catherine the Great’s silver wedding dress was exclusive to the Met’s exhibition. Vreeland understood that, while there is historical significance in every type of garment, a piece worn by a grand figure would add the layer of showmanship needed attract a wider breadth of visitors. “She merchandised clothing and history through the lens of privilege,” Koda says.

Through her years at the Met, Vreeland spotlighted Balenciaga, the costumes of the Ballet Russes, and put together a 25-year retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent’s career. She was notoriously late, and used to physically try on the clothes herself, according to fashion insider Simon Doonan’s 2012 memoir The Asylum: Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion. Along the way, Vreeland managed to make fashion exciting to the general public.


Legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland with designer Bill Blass at the 1981 gala, in celebration of the 18th Century Woman exhibit. Photo: Getty Images

Vreeland passed away in 1989, and that same year Richard Martin became the Costume Institute’s chief curator. Martin joined from the Fashion Institute of Technology and brought Koda—who had left the Met in 1979 to work at F.I.T.—with him. “He was the intellect behind the interpretation,” Koda says of their relationship. Koda would choose many of the objects, while Martin did all of the writing, putting each piece into context for the viewer. Martin and Koda’s Costume Institute was different from Vreeland’s. She would borrow dozens of pieces from outside museums and keep them on display for nine months at time. As concerns about wear increased—light damage is particularly destructive to clothing—the loans decreased. Instead of hosting one nine-month exhibit per year, Martin chose to create three themed exhibits so that clothes from the archive were not used as often.

According to Koda, the 1993 exhibition, “Infra-Apparel”, was a defining moment for the duo. In many ways, it was a history of lingerie, but it was also an examination of cultural mores. For instance, they showed a Jean-Paul Gaultier bustier outfit next to a 1780s  gown made of lightweight, ultra-fine cotton. The latter is called a chemise à la reine, named after Marie Antoinette, who was scandalized for wearing what many felt looked too much like lingerie. Fast forward more than 200 years, and Madonna was making similar headlines by arriving onstage in Gautier’s cone bra.

“We realized that if you just showed the Marie Antoinette dress, no one would come,” Koda says. “By comparing it to something contemporary and familiar, it makes the [Marie Antoinette dress] more relevant.”

When Martin passed away in 1999,  Koda was appointed curator in charge. (Andrew Bolton, the institute’s other curator, joined in 2002.) During Koda’s time at the helm, the museum’s hosted some of the most captivating and well-attended costume exhibitions in the history of the medium, from 2001’s “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years”—guest curated by Vogue international editor at large Hamish Bowles—to “Savage Beauty,” which attracted more than 660,000 visitors, placing it among the top ten most viewed exhibitions in the museum’s history.

Over the years, the institute has also played a role in the careers of fashion luminaries including Vogue editors Tonne Goodman and Andre Leon Talley, both of whom worked under Vreeland, as well as Doonan and even designer Zac Posen, who interned there as a high school student in the late ‘90s.


Designer Zac Posen with Dita Von Teese, in one of his gowns, at the 2014 gala, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. Photo: Getty Images

Posen landed at the Met by introducing himself to Martin during a visit to the Costume Institute in 1997. While much of his time was spent clipping newspaper articles and doing other sorts of basic research, it was not entirely without glamour. Once, he was allowed to skip school so that he could be at the museum when John Galliano, who’d just been installed at the house of Dior, came in to research the archives with muse Vanessa Bellanger and business partner Steven Robinson. “Vanessa was wearing a bias-cut dress in grey jersey, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a muse,’” Posen recalls. He was even invited to eat lunch with them. “It was a privilege and honor, and also one of my greatest memories.”

It was also around that time that Posen attended his first Met Ball after party. (He bought a staff ticket, and made his own outfit: a grey velvet suit with emerald green lining.) Nearly two decades later, his own gowns are regularly worn to the Met Ball, an event with increasing significance to those outside of the fashion world. That’s much in thanks to Vogue editor in chief and co-chair Anna Wintour, who has used her influence to persuade A-list celebrities to pepper the red carpet. For this year’s event, which celebrates the latest exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” co-chairs include Jennifer Lawrence and Yahoo ceo Marissa Mayer. In fact, Wintour’s efforts have been so great that in 2014, the museum’s redesigned Costume Institute space was renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center in her honor.


Vogue’s former editor at large, Andre Leon Talley, and the magazine’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, at the gala in 1999. Photo: Getty Images

The Costume Institute’s gravitas is undeniable, but what might be most incredible about the organization is its longevity. While attendance at museums and other cultural institutions has been in decline for two decades, the Costume Institute’s three-month shows draw numbers comparable to what Vreeland’s exhibits drew over the course of nine months. Its success has also spurred more fashion exhibitions around the world, from the Victoria and Albert’s recent revitalization and expansion of  “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” to the Alaia and Jeanne Lanvin exhibitions at the Musée Galliera in Paris. “If you’re the only game in town, what do you have to measure yourself against? We’re not the only 500 lb. gorilla anymore, and that’s good,” says Koda. “It shows a cultural investment in fashion as phenomenon.”

Related: Legendary Director Wong Kar Wai Talks Film, Fashion & His Artistic Vision For This Year’s Costume Institute Exhibition

All About the 2015 Met Ball Lineup

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1994 Rabin and Arafat sign accord for Palestinian self-rule

Life After Lead

In response to a letter from 8-year-old Flint resident Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint”, President Obama announced that he will visit Flint, Michigan tomorrow to convey his support to residents affected by the city’s water crisis. The President’s visit refocuses the national spotlight on Flint, which made national headlines earlier this year after it was revealed that the Michigan state government failed to provide safe and clean drinking water to the residents of Flint for more than a year.

The crisis began in April 2014, when government officials, under pressure to cut the budget, chose to switch the city’s water source to the polluted Flint River, without adequately preventing corrosive chemicals from entering the water flow. Not long after the switch, many residents began complaining about the dirty and smelly tap water and experiencing health side effects such as hair loss and rashes – but the local government waited nearly a year before admitting to the public that there was a problem.

While Flint officials turned a blind eye, a serious public health crisis unfolded as thousands of mostly black and low-income residents and children were poisoned by elevated levels of lead in the water, which can produce a host of long term health effects including high blood pressure, memory loss, and neurological disorders. Research suggests that young children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, as it affects children’s growth, behavior, and intelligence over time. It is estimated that between 6,000- 12,000 Flint kids have been exposed to lead, and for children, the effects of lead poisoning can be especially damaging: children with lead poisoning are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system than those not exposed to lead. And although the availability of early intervention and education services like high-quality childcare and pre-k could help determine how well these children fare down the line, these programs are currently scarce in Flint.

The water crisis in Flint – a city in which 56 percent of the population is African American and more the 40 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line – also serves as stark reminder of how the failures of government accountability, infrastructure investment, and environmental quality can disproportionately impact the most vulnerable communities in an area. In addition to Flint, there are cities across the country struggling with lead poisoning. For example, fourteen percent of children in Cleveland have elevated lead levels, mainly due to the persistence of lead paint in old buildings.

A recent CAP column and report illustrate how the crisis provides just one window into widespread environmental injustices faced by communities of color across the country: in fact, these communities tend to face higher risk of exposure to lead-poisoning, water contamination, and air pollution and are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than whiter, more affluent communities.

As reports of the crisis began to surface earlier this year and it became clear that the state of Michigan itself was primarily responsible for the crisis, President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint and directed millions in federal aid to Flint, and soon after the Michigan House of Representatives approved millions more to the city. But to really solve this problem and prevent future ones, Congress, which has failed to secure any aid package for Flint, must work past gridlock to pass legislation to increase funding for water infrastructure, improve testing and monitoring, and reform regulatory oversight to makes sure that no community suffers from the environmental injustices that Flint has.

BOTTOM LINE: President Obama’s trip to Flint reminds us of the troubles facing Flint and similar cities across the country. Whether it’s lead in the water, more extreme weather, or air pollution, Flint is just a particularly egregious example of the environmental injustices faced by communities of color across America. There are concrete solutions that Congress can enact to prevent problems like the ones faced by Flint, but lawmakers first have to be willing to make them.

Defending the Amazon is a daily battle


Defending the Amazon is a daily battle. It takes the deepest commitment and fierce dedication from each and every one of us. Despite the construction of the monstrous Belo Monte Dam, the communities of the Xingu have not given up, and neither have we. As a result, the final operating license was recently denied by the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA and the flooding of Altamira was halted!

That victory was possible because we all worked together in solidarity and refused to surrender to destructive forces in Brazil. Communities on the front lines are doing their part, and we need you to do yours. That means both action to generate pressure and funds to make the work possible.

Donate today with pride and know that you’re helping to stop a grave threat to the indigenous communities of the Xingu River and to our global climate.

Belo Monte is just the beginning. More than 60 large dams are planned for the Brazilian Amazon. The challenges will only get bigger, and we’ll continue to stand with our partners on the Xingu while ramping up our support for the Munduruku struggle to defend their lands and the Tapajos River from another destructive mega-dam.

Please support the fight to stop Belo Monte and other Amazon dams so that we may build upon this recent victory for justice in Brazil!

For the people of the Xingu and the Tapajos,

Leila Salazar-López
Executive Director

Save the Brazilian Amazon’s last tributary from destruction

Photo credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Believe it or not there is only one major tributary in the Brazilian Amazon that still runs free – the pristine Tapajós River. Today, the Tapajós and its vast forests are at risk of imminent destruction from the Brazilian government’s plans to build 29 large dams and approximately 80 smaller dams across its tributaries. Local communities such as the Mundurukú people, whose ancestral lands would be flooded, are fiercely resisting this devastation. Please donate today and support our work to keep the Tapajós running free.

“The fact is that there is only one earth and that nature provides everything. This is the indigenous reality and that is why our peoples are uniting in order to put an end to the damage caused by the Federal Government.”
– Mundurukú Chief Saw

Working with the Mundurukú, we have already made a difference: last year, our collective efforts forced Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy to postpone the dam’s license. Yet, we‘re aware that this victory, while important, is temporary.

Only the Mundurukú’s resolve and support from people around the world will defend the Tapajós basin, helping to preserve rivers, rainforests, and our climate. That’s why Amazon Watch stands with the Mundurukú while advocating for clean energy alternatives. We are advancing solutions that respect the rights of indigenous cultures, promote truly renewable energy sources, and allow the Amazon to thrive as it works to regulate our global climate.

The Mundurukú are our frontline allies in the struggle to save our planet from the devastation of climate change. How the world responds to their call reflects the choices we make about our own future. Today we invite you to make a choice in favor of people and planet.

For the Amazon,

500 year old forest cleared for 4-day event … Tell the Olympic ski Committee to STOP !

Despite public pressure, Olympic organisers cleared a portion of Mt. Gariwang for a ski slope. We are pushing the IOC to commit to upholding principles of sustainability so that this type of devastation never happens in the name of the Olympics again.

A 500 year old forest is being clear cut to make way for Olympic ski facilities that will be used for a four day competition! The International Olympic Committee has mandated these games as “Green Olympics”, let’s hold them to it and save the ancient forest. Sign then share on Facebook, Twitter, email…everywhere:

Sign now

We have a choice to make:

Preserve a 500 year old ancient forest, home to four threatened species, 


Clearcut the ancient forest for an Olympic ski competition.

It seems like a no-brainer. And it should be. But right now, Olympic organisers in South Korea are tearing down a forest, with trees half a millennia old, to make room for new ski facilities.

It’s shortsighted, illogical and worst of all, irreversible. Once the precious forest is gone, it’s gone forever. But we can stop them from clearcutting for an Olympic sized resort. The International Olympic Committee laid down a mandate that this event should be a “Green Olympics” built and operated by principles of sustainability. If we launch an enormous global outcry from every country participating in the Winter Olympics, we can shame the International Olympic Committee to living up to their ideals.

Join this urgent campaign and Avaaz will deliver our voices directly to the Olympic Committee offices. Sign then share on Facebook, Twitter, email…everywhere:


Pyeongchang, South Korea won the bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and to hold just two ski events, they are clearcutting the world’s largest expanse of Wangsasre tree, while devastating one of the last remaining habitats of four vulnerable animals: the Eurasian Otter, the Leopard Cat, the Marten and the Flying Squirrel.

This place has been considered sacred in Korea for hundreds of years and the mountain has long been protected. But to win the Olympic bid, the government removed the protection. Now, huge scars have been carved into the mountains, and developers are moving fast to clear cut enormous areas of forest to create a massive ski resort.

There is no reason for this — the Games could take place in another city like Muju, and that could save $138 million! The International Olympic Committee’s own environmental standards outline sustainable development for the Games. It’s time to hold them to account for turning a blind eye to Pyeongchang’s destruction, and demand they uphold their own rules.

It’s unconscionable to think of thousands of 500 year old trees felled for a few winter Olympic races. What’s been torn down can never be replaced. But if enough of us raise our voices we can stop them from expanding it, and ensure that the Olympics never destroys our global wonders for the games again. Join the urgent call:


Forests are the lungs of our world, vital to the clean air and stability of our shared planet.  Time and again, Avaaz members from across the world have come together to protect these treasures. From thousands of us chipping in to purchase a corridor of Borneo rainforest to winning major battles to protect the forests of Amazon, Aceh and Australia, Avaaz has shown that when we come together, we all win. Let’s do it again.

With hope and determination,

Dalia, Jooyea, Mais, Nataliya, Alice, Emily and the rest of the Avaaz team

PS – This campaign was kicked off by Avaaz member Koh I Jiseon. If there is something you want to start a campaign on just click here to start a petition:  http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?cl=8563517316&v=64804&biEWLbb


Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain (VOA)

Korean officials criticised for “neglecting duties” and “abusing authority” during Pyeongchang 2018 preparations (Inside the Games)

What to do with Pyeongchang venues after the 2018 Olympics? (The Hankyoreh)

Event sharing for Pyeongchang Olympics could save more than $300 million (The Hankyoreh)