Rule Britannia 

The Empire Strikes Back. Again.

Let’s face facts: When the Puritans came over from Britain, fleeing religious persecution, they weren’t exactly importing great fashion. Perhaps somewhere, a young colonial waif in early America secretly longed for a courtly get-up and ‘fancy’ sensibilities. Whatever the inspiration, we’ve much improved, and in the past few decades New York has gradually eclipsed London as a hub for fashion, music and style.

It seems, however, we are in the midst of a second (or millionth?) British invasion, as refurbished punk-rock stylings take the airwaves and the giddy charms of Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher give way to the roughed-up sexiness of Keira Knightley and Daniel Craig. Baseball’s gone ‘roidal and Americans are turning (finally!) to the wonderfully loutish bravado of ‘English football’ and the World Cup. Is fashion next?

Behold, “AngloMania”: Running through Sep-tember 4th in the English period rooms at the MET, the exhibit is a giant fireworks display heralding the rebellious spirit of English fashions from 1976-2006 and a cornucopia of things Britannia. Placing the exhibit in these elaborate rooms creates the dizzying sensation of viewing an exhibit within an exhibit and one is often at a loss as to what to look at first, from Chalayan-dressed servants on the Cassiobury Park Staircase to Alexander McQueen’s dark creations in “Deathbed” to evening gowns by Galliano, McQueen, and Westwood at “The Hunt Ball.” Coincidentally, the installation reflects the feel of the British Museum, where priceless relics seem crammed into rooms — I didn’t even see the Rosetta Stone for the colossal winged bull from the Palace of Sargon. This glut of material gives the Costume Institute incredible potential as part of the MET and it seems to be hitting its stride with this exhibit.

I’ve long been a fan of all things English, from a senior thesis on Milton to lust for John Galliano dresses to dating an actual Brit. But even those with an aversion to the tailored suits of Savile Row and a taste for soft-spoken folk over hammering guitar riffs and punk will have trouble denying the Empire’s never-ending potential for cool. Perhaps they have more history to draw on, more pain and glory to inspire them, but it should be a source of some shame, I think, to be standing on American soil and looking to our former oppressors for lessons in rebellion.


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