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100 Dresses: The Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Reviewed by Anne Harris, Fri., Dec. 3, 2010

Setting the Table

100 Dresses: The Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

preface by Harold Koda
Yale University Press, 232 pp., $24.95 (paper)

100 Dresses, from the Costume Institute's holdings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is not a page-turner. You'll take your sweet time on every exquisite specimen here, enhanced as they are by enlarged detail insets, related works of art, fashion plates, and portraits of designers. Chosen from the Institute's now-whopping collection of more than 35,000 costumes, each piece is an example of the way that fashion design reflects the culture surrounding it, like the "At-Home Gown" from 1876-78 that shows an early menswear influence with its placement of floral waistcoat embroidery. A 1966 Rudi Gernreich design that can only be described as a giraffe-print body stocking is shown photographed by Dennis Hopper, and in a strange reversal, a Paco Rabanne 1969 sheath of metal-linked plastic squares is almost certainly responsible for Lizzy Gardiner's 1994 Oscars dress fashioned from American Express cards. Yves Saint Laurent's 1958 precursor to the trapeze for the House of Dior inspires with a white boned corset under a veil of embroidery on tulle, and Christian Francis Roth's colorful jersey "Rothola" Crayon Dress from 1990 is a child's first scribble. Ranging from the late 17th century to today, the collection includes designs by Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood, among others. Stunning photography and beautiful production make the pictures seem tactile, closer to your touch here than on a busy day in the museum.

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