- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

NEW YORK

The common thread throughout “AngloMania,” the new fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, isn’t tartan plaid, Savile Row suits or even punk-style slashed T-shirts, although they’re all adequately represented. The star of this exhibit is British wit.

There’s just enough humor woven through the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries to capture the spirit of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and other stars of the London fashion scene whose work jazzes up the English period rooms.

Yes, believe it or not, London — which usually follows Paris, Milan and New York in the hierarchy of fashion cities — did and still does have many influential designers.

“London has always had the most creative, most entertaining and most humor in its fashion,” said Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour as she surveyed a vignette called “The Hunt.” It features male mannequins in classic red wool twill, black velvet and white cotton hunting ensembles surrounded by other models in Burberry fox-trimmed trench coats. There’s also one model in Mr. Galliano’s famous 2004 newspaper-print union suit with a fox fur headdress.

Aside from the occasional 19th-century frock, the focus of “AngloMania” is from 1976 — when punk style moved from King’s Road into the mainstream — through the present. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, whose wool tartan blazer made by Westwood in 1976 is on display, even recorded a podcast for the museum and attended Monday’s preview.

The show officially opens today and runs through Sept. 4.

British fashion has a consistent habit of juxtaposing tradition and transgression, said Andrew Bolton, the museum’s Costume Institute associate curator. The first piece to greet visitors is the embodiment of John Bull, a fictional character from 1712 who is supposed to be proud of his Anglo-Saxon origins. This John Bull wears a classic English frock coat, but because this particular coat was created for David Bowie by Mr. McQueen, it’s made in an unconventional roughed-up Union Jack-print fabric.

Next comes “The English Garden,” a room decorated with the intent of bringing beloved flower gardens indoors. Most of the mannequins are in brocade gowns from the 18th century, but at the center of the room is one in a pink pouf of tulle rosettes — a Hussein Chalayan dress from 2000. To top off the look: a silk, organza, straw and jersey hat with clipped ostrich plumes by Philip Treacy.

In the “Upstairs/Downstairs” scene, one mannequin wears a Charles Frederick Worth gown from 1888 with an 11-foot train. She heads up the stairs to meet a man dressed in a classic suit, complete with britches, waistcoat and topcoat, that would have been worn to the court of Queen Victoria. At the base of the steps are women in Mr. Chalayan’s deconstructed “hand-me-down” gowns from 2001 that look as if they came from Cinderella’s closet.

Queen Victoria had a very long-lasting influence on fashion, according to Mr. Bolton. She mourned the death of her husband for 40 years, making black the staple of her wardrobe and, therefore, a fashionable color.

Mr. Bolton also said it was Victoria who sparked “tartanitus” after a trip to Scotland. He put both tartan and black in the vignette called “The Deathbed.” Part of the display: one of Queen Victoria’s dresses from the 1860s and a brand new McQueen man’s ensemble including red, black and yellow tartan twill.

Miss Westwood finds much inspiration in the elaborate pageantry upon which Victoria insisted and in the royals themselves. On view in “Empire and Monarchy” are a 1997 Westwood gown in an elaborate blue-silver satin fabric with a bird, flower and fish motif, and a burgundy bubble minidress with a fake ermine cape and a tweed crown.

Miss Westwood, wearing the tiny, shiny horns on her head that have become her signature, said she was impressed with the scope and artistry of the exhibit. “Styling historical fashion and modern fashion is a big idea. It’s beautiful.”

Ironically, just when everyone else seems to have an interest in all things British, Britain usually gets its French bug and can’t get enough of the latest art, decor and fashion from Paris, Mr. Bolton said.

Hence the “Francomania” section of the exhibit. There’s a white silk satin gown with black velvet trim that conveys the image of a wrought-iron gate done by Worth at the very end of the 19th century, and an incredibly voluminous black taffeta Galliano gown for Christian Dior done exactly a century later.

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