The Costume Institute's summer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a flagship event for the cultural institution, what with the celebrity-filled opening gala, a new documentary about the intense preparations and, of course, major foot traffic — last year's "China: Through the Looking Glass" is among the Met's top five most-visited exhibitions of all time. Head curator Andrew Bolton has spoken at length about the pressure to stay ambitious with his exhibits, and the Met Store is following suit. This year, the museum shop has partnered with Nordstrom's Olivia Kim to offer an extra special array of pieces launching Wednesday to complement the "Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology" exhibit and allow visitors of all budgets the opportunity to take something unique home with them.
"It was an introduction through Anna [Wintour]," says Kim about how she got involved. "I love the idea of museum shops, they are really my favorite things about going to a museum... In partnership with them, we helped to coordinate and curate some exclusive pieces and introduce them to some of my favorite designers." Those include Marques Almeida, Hussein Chalayan, Paskal and Simone Rocha, who all contributed pieces inspired by or complementary to the hand and machine techniques highlighted in the exhibit.
"I thought about some of my favorite designers that I felt were doing really great examples of those works, and then we introduced them to the Met Store to see if we could do some exclusive stuff," says Kim. "From Marques Almeida we have a top that's sheer with all these bright feathers on it, which I think that they do so well in a very nontraditional way," she says. The top from the fall 2014 collection will arrive to the shop in June, while a feather and leather wallet with detachable strap will be available starting Wednesday. "And with Simone Rocha, she does such a good job of incorporating beading into these very feminine designs, but they don't have to be so precious," explains Kim. The designer is contributing a silk sailor cord belt, five handbag styles and two brooches — all available Wednesday as well.
Kim also spearheaded a collection of exclusive nail polishes designed by Cirque Colors's Annie Pham, marking the first time the Met Store has offered beauty products. The six shades play off the "Manus" and "Machina" sides of the exhibit, with names like "Pret-a-Pearl" and "Laser Jet."
In addition to the new labels introduced to the Met by Kim, the museum's team also collaborated with designers that it has worked with in the past, often on exclusive and limited-edition pieces. Susan Noonan, the Met Store's general manager of buying, cited Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons and Maison Margiela as examples. "It's a conversation with the designers," she says, especially if they are part of the exhibit. "The curator has selected specific pieces from their work... and so with Alexander McQueen this year, the focus was more on Sarah Burton's recent work and lacework rather than further back into their archive. The conversation was there: 'Okay, we should create something new, but that [also] reflects that content.'" McQueen contributed an exclusive chiffon scarf based off one of the lacework pieces it contributed to the show.
The "Manus x Machina" collection includes a wide range of products: the exhibit catalogue (at $50, it's always the best seller), postcards, jewelry, fashion, accessories, home goods, the nail polish sets. It's a total of over 150 pieces ranging from $2 for a set of three postcards to $3,950 for a limited edition leather and brass clutch designed by Flowen. "I think it's important for us, because it's a fashion show, to have really strong fashion accessory and jewelry pieces," says Noonan, adding that some visitors are "definitely looking for an aspirational purchase." Last year, fine jewelry in the $700 range sold very well, as did accessories priced from $75 to $250.
The biggest challenge for the Met Shop is the expedited schedule for pulling the collection together. "Some of these designers, they are not at a place where they hold inventory or they just had some of this stuff lying around," says Kim, adding that she had her first conversations with the Met Store before the holidays, but the product curation took place in the few weeks leading up to the exhibit's opening. "They were really working to see if we could gets something done in time... they were just ecstatic about partnering with the Met Store and the museum and Vogue." Noonan agreed, saying that she first reached out to designers during fashion month in February.
As "The First Monday in May" reveals, much of the exhibit itself comes together in the final weeks. "We wanted to see how the show was going to come together and be able to react based on that," says Kim. "That's the fun thing about creating retail experiences. If you can react in real time and give a visitor or a customer something that feels really special, but in limited quantity, [it] makes them feel really excited about that experience." Plus, it can make them feel excited about coming back: It is common for visitors to see the Costume Institute exhibits several times, so the Met Store will be releasing new pieces throughout the summer. As with everything in fashion, even museum exhibits, newness is key.
See more products from Olivia Kim's edit for the Met Store in the gallery below, and shop the collection online now.