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What to Expect at The Met's 'China: Through the Looking Glass' Exhibit

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The New York fashion world's biggest annual event, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala, heralds the unveiling of the most anticipated fashion exhibition of the year. The 2015 showcase mines the dreams of fashion's top designers as they create clothes inspired by the Far East. "China: Through the Looking Glass," opening today, offers a historically-grounded means into fashion's long romanticization of Chinese culture, and highlights the incorporation of its rich visual heritage into Western design. This smart, sensitive exhibition finely balances fantastic fashion confections alongside the global significance of Chinese visual culture that inspired them. Here are a few things you can expect.

French evening coat, 1925


Prepare Yourself for a Multimedia Spectacle

The revamped Costume Institute galleries, which opened just last year after a lengthy overhaul, were specially designed to be adaptable to "the latest video, sound, and wireless technology." Since the exhibition is an homage to the role of Chinese style in cinema's past, from silent screen and classic Hollywood to contemporary film, a media-heavy display offers the historical context and frames the exhibition. Look out for projections of classic Chinese action films, displays with their own musical scores, and billowing clouds of opium smoke in the exhibit's Perfume Room. (It looks like The Met kept the robotic arms from the Charles James exhibition in storage, though.)

Rediscover Wong Kar Wai's Romantic Cinema Style

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000)


As the exhibition's artistic director—a new (and pretty wise) move for the Costume Institute—you can expect imagery from the Hong Kong auteur director's stylized oeuvre, featuring the impossibly elegant and feline Maggie Cheung in Hong Kong-noir cheongsams and chignons.

Haute Couture Galore!

Expect exquisite details, with all the fine tailoring, sumptuous fabrics, and intricate embroidery usually reserved for haute couture. Think Tom Ford dresses dripping with sequins, encrusted Chanel ballgowns, and silky Ralph Lauren tuxedo dresses, all embellished with floral and fauna motifs drawn from Chinese painting, drawing, and textile traditions—including lots of dragons. You won't see everyday historical dress here, nor any focus on Chinese contemporary designers, but you will discover centuries-old court robes and other garments worn by Chinese monarchs.

See the Best of the Met's Chinese Art Collections

Jar with Dragon, Ming Dynasty, Early 15th Century


Discovering the strong links between fine art and fashion enriches our understanding of design, and the Met's extraordinary collections have been combed for pristine and colorful examples of fine arts traditions in China over the last several hundred years. Expect to see a range of fine arts treasures, from Ming Dynasty porcelain and ink-rich paintings to Song Dynasty calligraphic poetry scrolls and carved, lacquered furniture. This could be the most fine arts-heavy Costume Institute exhibition since 2006's wildly interdisciplinary AngloMania, which was set in the museum's English period rooms.

Find Your New Fashion Heroine

From silver screen goddess Anna May Wong to Technicolor's Nancy Kwan, '90s action heroine and art house ingénue Maggie Cheung to the gorgeous icon Gong Li, you'll be dazzled by images of divine, powerful Chinese beauties from cinema's past and present.