Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Photos: Anna May Wong as Fashion Muse in “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met

Currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through August 16, 2015, The Costume Institute’s spring 2015 exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, is a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Asian Art Department, as a celebration for their centennial. This year the exhibit is three times larger than those in the past, spanning 30,000 square feet and spread out over three floors. China: Through the Looking Glass features more than 140 designs of haute couture and avant-­garde ready-­to­-wear alongside masterpieces of Chinese art.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Photo by Lia Chang

In China: Through the Looking Glass, the Astor Forecourt gallery has been devoted to Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. Haute Couture designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and John Galliano for the House of Dior inspired by Ms. Wong, are displayed alongside a Travis Banton gown she wore in Limehouse Blues (1934). Ms. Wong can be seen in a montage of rare film clips edited by Wong Kar-Wai, vintage film stills and photographs by Edward Sheriff Curtis and Nickolas Muray.

Ann May Wong in Limehouse Blues, 1934 directed by Alexander Hall (Paramount Pictures UCLA Film & Television Archive).

Ann May Wong in Limehouse Blues, 1934 directed by Alexander Hall (Paramount Pictures UCLA Film & Television Archive).

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), the heroine enters an imaginary, alternative universe by climbing through a mirror in her house. In this world, a reflected version of her home, everything is topsy-turvy and back-to-front. Like Alice’s make-believe world, the China mirrored in the fashions in this exhibition is wrapped in invention and imagination.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Travis Banton (American, 1894–1958) Evening dress, 1934, worn by Anna May Wong, Black silk charmeuse embroidered with gold and silver sequins, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Anna May Wong, 1956; Film Still of Anna May Wong in “Limehouse Blues,”1934, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Archive Photos, and Getty Images. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Travis Banton (American, 1894–1958) Evening dress, 1934, worn by Anna May Wong, Black silk charmeuse embroidered with gold and silver sequins, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Anna May Wong, 1956; Film Still of Anna May Wong in “Limehouse Blues,”1934, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Archive Photos, and Getty Images. Photo by Lia Chang

“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make­ believe,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute. “Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt, Anna May Wong Evening dress, John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture; Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang; Anna May Wong, 1925 Photograph by Edward Sheriff Curtis (American, 1868-1952)

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt, Anna May Wong Evening dress, John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture; Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang; Anna May Wong, 1925 Photograph by Edward Sheriff Curtis (American, 1868-1952)

In terms of shaping Western fantasies of China, no figure has had a greater impact on fashion than Ms. Wong. Born in Los Angeles in 1905 as Huang Liushuang (”yellow willow frost”), she was fated to play opposing stereotypes of the Enigmatic Oriental, namely the docile, obedient, submissive Lotus Flower and the wily, predatory, calculating Dragon Lady.

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

Filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai attends the 'China: Through the Looking Glass' press preview at the Temple of Dendur at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

Filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai attends the ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ press preview at the Temple of Dendur at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Lia Chang

Acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai served as artistic director for China: Though the Looking Glass. Below are excerpts of his speech from the press preview on May 4, 2015.

“Putting together this show has been a truly remarkable journey for myself and everyone involved. Our creative team was comprised of experts across various disciplines including fine arts, fashion and cinema.Together we hope to offer you a collective perspective that is both compelling and provocative.

One of the most fascinating parts of this journey for myself was having the opportunity to revisit the Western perspective of the East through the lens of early Hollywood. Whether it was Fred Astaire playing a fan dancing Chinese man or Anna May Wong in one of her signature Dragon Lady roles, it is safe to say that most of the depictions were far from authentic.

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

Unlike their filmmaking contemporaries, the fashion designers and tastemakers of that period take those distortions as their inspiration and went on to create a Western aesthetic with new layers of meanings that was uniquely their own.

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008) Evening ensemble, spring/summer 1980 Jacket of black silk gazar embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold beads, and silver sequins; skirt of black silk satin with gold lamé, Gift of Diana Vreeland, 1984 (1984.607.28a-c). Photo by Lia Chang “Anna May Wong in Picadilly,” 1929 Film still courtesy of the Kobal Collection

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008)
Evening ensemble, spring/summer 1980
Jacket of black silk gazar embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold beads, and silver sequins; skirt of black silk satin with gold lamé, Gift of Diana Vreeland, 1984
(1984.607.28a-c). Photo by Lia Chang
“Anna May Wong in Picadilly,” 1929 Film still courtesy of the Kobal Collection

In this exhibition, we did not shy away from these images because they are historical fact in their own reality. Instead, we look for the areas of commonality and appreciate the beauty that abounds.

Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express, 1932 directed by Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express, 1932 directed by Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC).

With China: Through the Looking Glass, we have tried our best to encapsulate over a century of cultural interplay between the East and West that has equally inspired and informed. It is a celebration of fashion, cinema and creative liberty. It is an important time in the human history for cross cultural dialogue and I’m proud and delighted to contribute to the conversation.”

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Ralph Lauren (American, born 1939), Evening dress, autumn/winter 2011–12 Black synthetic double georgette and net embroidered with black silk thread and beads Courtesy of Ralph Lauren Collection. Photo by Lia Chang; Film still of Anna May Wong in “Daughter of the Dragon,” 1931, courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Ralph Lauren (American, born 1939), Evening dress, autumn/winter 2011–12
Black synthetic double georgette and net embroidered with black silk thread and beads Courtesy of Ralph Lauren Collection. Photo by Lia Chang; Film still of Anna May Wong in “Daughter of the Dragon,” 1931, courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

Film clips, edited by Wong Kar-Wai featuring Anna May Wong include Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC); Limehouse Blues (1934) directed by Alexander Hall (Paramount Pictures UCLA Film & Television Archive); Piccadilly (1929) directed by E. A. Dupont (British International Pictures, Courtesy of Milestone Film & Video and British Film Institute); Shanghai Express, (1932) directed by Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC); and The Toll of the Sea (1922) directed by Chester M. Franklin (Metro Pictures Corporation, UCLA Film & Television Archive), run on overhead screens in The Astor Forecourt.

Limited by race and social norms in America and constrained by one- dimensional caricatures in Hollywood, she moved to Europe, where the artistic avant-garde embraced her as a symbol of modernity.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. House of Dior (French, founded 1947) John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) Dress, autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture Pink silk jacquard and black silk satin embroidered with polychrome silk thread Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang. Anna May Wong, 1931 Photograph by Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. House of Dior (French, founded 1947)
John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960)
Dress, autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture
Pink silk jacquard and black silk satin embroidered with polychrome silk thread Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang.
Anna May Wong, 1931
Photograph by Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection. Photo by Lia Chang

The artists Marianne Brandt and Edward Steichen found a muse in Anna May Wong, as did the theorist Walter Benjamin, who in a 1928 essay describes her in a richly evocative manner: “May Wong the name sounds colorfully margined, packed like marrow-bone yet light like tiny sticks that unfold to become a moon-filled, fragranceless blossom in a cup of tea,” Benjamin, like the designers in this gallery, enwraps Anna May Wong in Western allusions and associations, In so doing, he unearths latent empathies between the two cultures, which the fashions on display here extend through their creative liberties.

Paul Smith (British, born 1946)
, Ensemble, autumn/winter 2011-12 Dress of black silk charmeuse embroidered with polychrome silk thread; pants of gray wool sharkskin, 
Courtesy of Paul Smith. Anna May Wong, 1933 
Photograph by Paul Tanqueray (British, 1905-1991), courtesy of © estate of Paul Tanqueray/National Portrait Gallery, London

Paul Smith (British, born 1946)
, Ensemble, autumn/winter 2011-12 Dress of black silk charmeuse embroidered with polychrome silk thread; pants of gray wool sharkskin, 
Courtesy of Paul Smith.
Anna May Wong, 1933 
Photograph by Paul Tanqueray (British, 1905-1991), courtesy of © estate of Paul Tanqueray/National Portrait Gallery, London

Designers featured in China: Through the Looking Glass include Cristobal Balenciaga, Bulgari, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, Callot Soeurs, Cartier, Roberto Cavalli, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino Garavani, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Picciolo for Valentino, Craig Green, Guo Pei, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Charles James, Mary Katrantzou, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Ralph Lauren, Judith Leiber, Christian Louboutin, Ma Ke, Mainbocher, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Alexander McQueen for Givenchy, Edward Molyneux, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Dries van Noten, Jean Patou, Paul Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Paul Smith, Vivienne Tam, Isabel Toledo, Giambattista Valli, Vivienne Westwood, Jason Wu, and Laurence Xu.

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

Photos: Inside “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met with Wong Kar-Wai, Vivienne Tam, Wendi Murdoch, Anna Wintour and More

cropped-lia-chang_photo-by-carlos-flores-3.jpg Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

Related articles:
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion Exhibition on view at New-York Historical Society through April 19; Photos of An Evening with Amy Tan
Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Spring Exhibition, CHINA: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, May 7–August 16
Preview of Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Spring Exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, Announced at the Palace Museum in China
Costume Institute’s Spring 2015 Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum to Focus on Chinese Imagery in Art, Film, and Fashion, May 7–August 16, 2015
Metropolitan Museum Extends Hours for Last Four Days of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Photos:Alexander McQueen:Savage Beauty Extends at Met through 8/7, Met Mondays w/ McQueen begin 6/6

Other articles by Lia Chang
AAFLTV “Focus on the Philippines” Monday nights in June, hosted by Jennifer Betit Yen, Erin Quill and Lia Chang
Photos: The 11th Annual 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Launch Party at The Korea Society; TWO FACES is this year’s theme 
The King and I wins 4 Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Kelli O’Hara (Best Leading Actress in a Musical), Ruthie Ann Miles (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Catherine Zuber (Best Costume Design)
The King and I’s Ruthie Ann Miles Wins #TonyAwards for Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Photos: 2015 Tony Award Winners and Performances
Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang’s Commencement Speech at SUNY Purchase
Dr. Leroy Chiao honored with 2015 Blue Cloud Award at China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala
Photos: Dr. Leroy Chiao, The Hon. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Shirley and Walter Wang Honored at China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala 
Photos: Traveling through the mouth of the Dragon with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s James Hong, Peter Kwong, Lia Chang, Gerald Okamura, George Cheung, Al Leong, Jeff Imada, James Lew, Gary Goldman, Eric Lee 
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
Photos: Garth Kravits as a Statue of Liberty Street Performer on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie
Production Photos: Omar Metwally and Arian Moayed in World Premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s GUARDS AT THE TAJ at Atlantic Theater Company; Opens June 11 
Michael K. Lee, Christopheren Nomura, Greg Watanabe and More Join George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung in Broadway’s ALLEGIANCE; Full Cast Announced
Photos: Edie Falco, Bryce Pinkham, Stephanie McKay, Lena Hall, Nick Blaemire, Jacob Ming-Trent, Matthew Saldívar at The 52nd Street Project’s Gala FANCY THAT
Original Cast of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE including Jose Llana, Derrick Baskin, Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler, Lisa Howard, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jay Reiss, and Sarah Saltzberg, to Reunite for 10th Anniversary Benefit Concert on July 6
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy Garners 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
ABC Renews “Fresh Off the Boat” and Picks up Ken Jeong’s “Dr. Ken”
An Intimate Evening with Author Amy Tan at the New-York Historical Society
World Premiere Musical HAMILTON Transfers to Broadway; Previews begin July 13
Crafting a Career

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s