Anna-Marie Kellen, associate chief photographer in the Met’s Imaging Department, has photographed selected looks from “Lexicon” on unadorned mannequins, in a way that highlights the objectness and construction of the garments. They are then contextualized by the words that Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, and assistant curator Amanda Garfinkel, have assigned to each look.
Over the past two years of COVID and protests, it’s become clear that how we talk about things, and what words we use, really do matter. The idea of “Lexicon” was first to identify the overarching feelings evoked by American fashion—like nostalgia, belonging, exuberance, joy, etc.—and then group designs into each category. Next, each look was assigned a single, expressive word. The cover of the catalog features a hand-painted sunset by Conner Ives, which they designated as an example of “reverence;” Stephen Burrows’s colorful, body-loving jersey knits are synonymous with “vibrancy.”
“While curators usually strive for a certain level of objectivity in their endeavors,” Bolton writes in the catalog, “we felt justified on this occasion to indulge in such a subjective exercise, given that our aim was to arrive at a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities. Fashion is so familiar, so accessible, and so ubiquitous to our experience that it is open to a wide range of interpretations.” His hope is that visitors and readers will further expand the vocabulary around American fashion.