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Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute Salutes Power of "Superheroes" Imagery in Fashion
The Graphic Body Gallery View. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
NEW YORK.- As superheroes enjoy a surge in mass popularity, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the symbolic and metaphorical associations between these fictional characters and fashion in Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, an exhibition at the Museum from May 7 through September 1, 2008. The exhibition features approximately 60 ensembles including movie costumes, avant-garde haute couture, and high-performance sportswear to reveal how the superhero serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion and its ability to empower and transform the human body.

"Today, superhero imagery has suffused almost every aspect of popular culture," said Andrew Bolton, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. "The superhero's iconic costume of cape, mask, and bodysuit finds many fashionable permutations. But fashion's embrace of the superhero extends beyond iconography, to issues of identity, sexuality, and nationalism. Fashion shares with the superhero an inherent metaphorical malleability which fuels its fascination with the idea and the ideal of the superhero."

The exhibition, in the Museum's first-floor special exhibition galleries, includes movie costumes as well as radical fashions that literally and figuratively reference superhero iconography, including Bernhard Willhelm's 2006 royal blue dress emblazoned with Superman's red-and-yellow "S-shield," a 1996 Walter van Beirendonck pink vinyl inflatable jacket, and a Thierry Mugler motorcycle bustier with polychrome handlebars and side-view mirrors. A long leather Balenciaga jacket with articulated bronze leggings evokes Iron Man's metallic skin, while a Jean Paul Gaultier second-skin bodysuit shares The Flash's streamlined aerodynamics.

Designers in the exhibition include Atair, Giorgio Armani, Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Eiko Ishioka, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Moschino, Thierry Mugler, Nike, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, Speedo, Spyder, As Four, Walter van Beirendonck, Versace, and Bernhard Willhelm.

Objects are organized thematically around specific superheroes, whose movie costumes and superpowers are catalysts for discussion of key concepts of superheroism and their expression in fashion. Superman and Spider-Man costumes address the subject of The Graphic Body, relating Superman's 'S' chevron to designer logos and branding. Catwoman represents The Paradoxical Body, which explores the character's vacillating manifestations of good and bad. The stars and stripes of Wonder Woman's uniform, a composite of the American flag, epitomize The Patriotic Body and designs that appropriate patriotic emotions implicit in the character. The Hulk, a metaphor for male potency, introduces a section on The Virile Body, which includes inflatable clothing that swells to exaggerate the male physique.

The Flash – a character who possesses superhuman speed - addresses the Aerodynamic Body as manifest in high-tech sportswear including Speedo's "Fastskin LZR Racer" designed by Rei Kawakubo for Michael Phelps and the 2008 United States Olympic swim team, Nike's "Swift Suit" for running, and Descente's "Muscle Suit" for speed skating. Batman and Iron Man represent The Armored Body, and examine avant-garde fashion that merges flesh and metal, skin and chromium. The Mutant Body, denoted by the X-Men, highlights clothing that morphs men into beasts. Ghost Rider (the biker-demon with flaming skull) and The Punisher (the vigilante who sports a giant death-skull emblem on his T-shirt) symbolize The Postmodern Body that suggests an anti-hero identity through the eclectic mixing of street styles.








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May 6, 2008

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