NEW YORK – The storied 144-year-old Metropolitan Museum has hosted many memorable moments, but the morning of May 5 will arguably go down as one of the most historic, thanks to two noteworthy debuts: the renaming of the newly renovated Costume Institute as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, and the opening of the museum’s seasonal exhibition "Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” also the theme for the 2014 Met Gala.
Wearing an emerald Naeem Khan embroidered dress, first lady Michelle Obama helped cut the ribbon in the Dendur Temple, where she was joined by the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs, Raf Simons, Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Riccardo Tisci, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Zac Posen to honor Anna Wintour and fete the opening of the revamped Costume Center.
"I know Anna hates being the center of attention," said Obama, "so this might be killing her, but we love it. I am here because I have such admiration and respect for this woman whom I'm proud to call my friend." And although Wintour didn't speak during the ceremony, the Vogue editor was spied shedding a tear when the room jumped to its feet for a standing ovation, which resonated among the gigantic bouquets of cherry blossoms.
The morning also marked the debut of American designer Charles James' exhibition. An inspiration to the likes of Zac Posen, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto and Alber Elbaz, the homage to the late couturier is seemingly long overdue.
Costume Institute curator Harold Koda and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro called upon their best high-tech digital screens, robotic arms, light pointers, cameras and animated videos for the occasion, virtually stripping 15 gowns inside-out for a live lesson in fashion architecture to demonstrate the complexity of Charles James' weighty, botanical-inspired gowns.
"Anna has kept fashion high or medium, all relevant,” said Wang, who was on hand for the occasion to celebrate her friend. “She has made fashion thrive in real life, and in history, here at the Costume Institute. She kept that respect, legacy and legitimacy all alive,” she added.
For Joseph Altuzarra, nominated this year for the CFDA best womenswear designer award, the morning at the Costume Institute was especially moving: "I am so honored to be part of history by being here today. Anna was instrumental for me. She was helpful for my business in many ways, with the buyers, with the CFDA/Vogue fund, with advice, and with her regular caring, personal phone calls." Designer Olivier Theyskens chimed in: "Usually, you don't even know she's acting behind the scenes for you, but she does."
"Charles James: Beyond Fashion" will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 8 to August 10.