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Dressing the Part

<p>Each spring the Met Ball brings the fashion elite (<em>Vogue</em>&rsquo;s Anna Wintour, Valentino Garavani) and Hollywood royalty (Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The event kicks off the Costume Institute&rsquo;s spring exhibition, which for the past 11 years has been curated by England native Andrew Bolton. In celebration of this year&rsquo;s <em>Punk: Chaos to Couture</em>, Bolton, whose 2011 show, <em>Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty</em>, drew close to 700,000 visitors, tells us how he puts together the ultimate fashion show.</p>

Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious is just one rocker whose punk-inflected style and music will be on display.

A look from Chanel’s spring 2011 ready-to-wear collection applies the punk aesthetic to the classic Chanel jacket.

A dress by Rodarte will be on view in the D.I.Y. Destroy portion of the exhibit.

The process of planning a Costume Institute exhibition takes about 10 months in total, which is actually a very compressed amount of time, as most curators spend two to five years on an exhibition. I love the sped-up idea—it’s very much how fashion
is and it reflects the fashion calendar, so I can’t complain.

Usually, when planning the exhibitions, I don’t start my research until June or July, after I’ve finished all of the lectures and tours of the year’s current show. Initially, I come up with the concept, which gets rigorously refined as we start looking for garments and images. Garment loans are always tricky because you have to compromise along the way: Either the designers don’t have the piece you want in their archive or they’re unwilling to lend or they’re in bad condition. For this year’s exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture, we didn’t have the final objects until mid-March.

For the garments that are featured in Punk, I focused on designers who have consistently looked to it as an aesthetic or attitude: John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe. The theme was something I had been thinking about for a while, and part of it was personal, because I was about 8 or 9 years old when it really hit. Growing up in England in the ’70s, punk was extreme compared with everything else that was happening there and in New York. I wanted to showcase this movement that used fashion as a powerful tool to express one’s individuality while offering a critique of the status quo. For me, fashion isn’t just about wearability; it’s about expressing concepts and ideas through clothing.

For an exhibition to be successful, it needs to be relatable on many levels. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was an extraordinary experience because McQueen was a hero of mine. It was moving for so many people, but it’s almost impossible to replicate because of the circumstances. I think with Punk, perhaps more than with Savage Beauty, there’s a balance between the fashions people deem as wearable and those that are conceptual. In these exhibitions the clothes need to tell the story. A show that transforms you, makes you think differently and challenges your expectations—that’s what we try to achieve.