If you think it is nerve-wracking planning and orchestrating a dinner party or perhaps even a gallery opening, just imagine what it would be like helming an exhibition that will attract 800,000 people. Opening night will be veritable who’s-who of paparazzi favourites dressed to the hilt by the foremost fashion designers. That is what The First Monday in May is all about.
Each (northern hemisphere) spring, the broad sidewalks and steep stairs of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are transformed for an evening, as the throngs of tourists and food carts disappear. In their place a glittering catwalk arises filled with some of the world’s most recognisable figures in fashion, business and entertainment. The most sought-after invitation in New York City, the Met Gala finds Academy Award-winning actors and supermodels sharing the spotlight with pop-music icons and political powerbrokers for an evening unlike any other. It is a star-studded fundraiser. Subsequently, the doors are thrown open to the public for them to glimpse the latest creation of The Costume Institute at The Met. So, The First Monday in May looks at both the Gala and the exhibition staged last year.
It follows the creation of China: Through The Looking Glass. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times) focuses upon two strong and powerful individuals. Anna Wintour is editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and longtime chair of the Met Gala and Andrew Bolton is the iconoclastic curator who conceived the groundbreaking show. The documentary covers eight months as they prepare for an evening they hope will take the worlds of art and fashion by storm.
Four years earlier, radical fashion designer Alexander McQueen had been Bolton’s focus of attention in the highly regarded Savage Beauty exhibition. Such was its success that Bolton was on a hiding to nowhere ever since trying to reach those glorious heights again. This time it is Chinese-inspired Western fashion that provides the inspiration. The First Monday in May also reignites the debate about whether fashion can and should be viewed as art.
Rossi not only follows around Bolton and Wintour, but speaks with renowned creators including filmmakers Wong Kar-Wai, Artistic Director of the exhibition, and Baz Luhrmann. He also seeks the views of preeminent fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Guo Pei and John Galliano.
This compelling behind the scenes look at what it takes to stage two momentous events – the Gala and the exhibition – is engaging from the get go. Importantly, you care about the outcome as the months tick by. From eight months out, we move to five months, then three, two etc. Too much still appears to be left undone as the final days arrive and yet the spectacular and the spectacle converge when the time is right.
The First Monday in May paints a vivid picture of the creativity cycle and the individuals who inhabit that space. You can appreciate the offering regardless of whether or not you give a tinker’s cuss about fashion. Some may regard the whole exercise as one succumbing to pretension, but I am not one of those. I can feel a lot of love in the room and a coming together of passion and genius.
Andrew Rossi deserves high praise for his efforts in bringing the divergent streams of these events together for our viewing pleasure. Rated M, The First Monday in May scores a 7 out of 10.
Director: Andrew Rossi
Release Date: 12 May 2016
Rating: M – Coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television