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Previewing the Costume Institute’s Superheroes Exhibit

Three looks from the exhibit. From left: Bernhard Willhelm, spring and summer 2006; Jean Paul Gaultier, spring and summer 2003; John Galliano for Christian Dior Haute Couture, spring and summer 2001, Wonder Woman Collection.Photos: Willhelm and Galliano courtesy of Chris Moore; Gaultier courtesy of firstVIEW

We’ve gotten our hands on the genuinely cool book for the Costume Institute’s upcoming “Superheroes” exhibit, and, for all the jokes one can make about the gala’s red carpet being graced with celebrities awkwardly decked out in Catwoman leather or Captain America capes (per hostess Anna Wintour’s request that attendees take the theme seriously), a look at what’s actually being shown at the exhibit is rather illuminating. Just to get all heady on you, we’ll quote the book’s preface:

Fashion mirrors the superhero’s obsessive preoccupation with the ideal body, signaling changes, both subtle and obvious, in prevailing standards of perfection. […] Fashion, like the superhero, celebrates metamorphosis, providing unlimited opportunities to remake and reshape the flesh and the self.

After the jump, a sampler of the exhibit’s looks from Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, and more, plus a brief explanation of the superhero inspirations behind them — just in case you need to impress a random dude (or your little brother). —Jessica Coen

From left: Alexander McQueen, fall and winter 2007–2008; Giorgio Armani, spring and summer 1990; Thierry Mugler, fall and winter 1997–1998.Photos: McQueen courtesy of Chris Moore; Armani by Jacques Olivar, courtesy of Giorgio Armani; Mugler © copyright Patrice Stable

For those of you keeping track, McQueen’s and Mugler’s designs are considered inspired by the mutant body (superheroes like the X-Men), while Giorgio Armani’s is another graphic-body-inspired look.

From left: Thierry Mugler, fall and winter 1996–1997; Dolce & Gabbana, spring and summer 2007; Thierry Mugler, spring and summer 1992.Photos: Mugler, both © copyright Patrice Stable; Dolce & Gabbana courtesy of Chris Moore

Superhero translation: The Mugler at left is a paradoxical body, which is inspired by Catwoman — a superhero who was both a “good” and a “bad” girl. Dolce is an armored body. At right, Mugler is a postmodern body, inspired by superheroes more typical of graphic novels than of traditional comic books.

From left: Thierry Mugler, fall and winter 1995–1996; Gareth Pugh, spring and summer 2007; W. & L.T. by Walter Van Beirendonck, spring and summer 1996.Photos: Mugler courtesy of Chris Moore; Pugh courtesy of firstView; Van Beirendonck courtesy of Walter Van Beirendonck archive

And your final superhero scorecard: Both Mugler’s and Gareth Pugh’s looks are considered armored bodies, while Van Beirendonck’s is a virile body, inspired by a superhero who was the “embodiment of hegemonic masculinity” — the Hulk.

Previewing the Costume Institute’s Superheroes Exhibit