As if real-world fashion flicks of recent years, from The September Issue to Dior and I, weren’t enough for those who love all things à la mode, Dogwoof Pictures’ latest production, The First Monday in May, is – without doubt – another obligatory addition to any fashionista’s watch list. Following the lead-up to the Met Gala of 2015, the documentary follows Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue and trustee at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, and Wong Kar-wai, one of China’s most revered filmmakers, as they work towards what is, to this day, one of the most successful, and in some ways controversial, Met exhibitions; China: Through the Looking Glass. With many more famous faces in between (from John Galliano to Rihanna), the film makes for a stunning visual experience that would whet the appetites of even the most seasoned of aesthetes.
Bolton’s journey is, in many ways, at the heart of the film. Having curated the notorious Savage Beauty, a masterful display of the late Alexander McQueen’s work, when it first opened at the Met in 2011, it is clear from the outset that he had to surpass an incredibly high set of expectations, in order to break free from being forever associated with McQueen. His synthesis of Chinese fashion, both old and new, makes for a daring spectacle, from traditional Chinese qipao (i.e. evening gowns) and elaborate silk dresses worn by the late Anna May Wong, one of China’s first movie starlets, all the way to Maoist style military jackets and accompanying attire. Perhaps most interesting, is witnessing the tension of all involved, Eastern and Western, as they deliberate on the best way to represent Chinese fashion without damaging relations between China and the West in the process.
Besides the overall purpose of putting on the exhibition, the inside peek into the organisational effort of making the annual Met gala happen is reminiscent of the pressurised atmosphere revealed in The September Issue back in 2009, undoubtedly, in part, because one of fashion’s most influential figures, Anna Wintour, is at the helm. Having already gained an insight into a day in the life of Wintour at Vogue, it is interesting to see her at work in other, related, areas. She remains sharp and inscrutable as ever, every now and then directing a scathing remark at a particular person or object, be it a certain guest ‘on his cell phone the whole time’, to the digital screens at the new offices of Vogue at the new World Trade Centre making the place look like a ‘discotheque’. Her image as a cold and difficult boss, and her thoughts on this, is explored in greater depth than some of the past films she’s been involved with, in the end rendering her more admirable than ever.
The production as a whole leaves a stunning impression, having shown just how much work goes into one of fashion’s biggest events and the running of one of the world’s most revered museums. Behind the glamorous spectacle of Rihanna gliding down the red carpet like some enchanting, child-like princess, clad with an awe-inspiring couture dress designed by Guo Pei, there is a tonne of labour and devotion going on behind the scenes to make it happen, and it is insightful films like these that enable lovers of all things fashion to appreciate why it is they love this industry so much.
Cover Image: nytimes.com