Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Diff365 documentary shows that the big names in the fashion industry are cut from very tough cloth

Andrew Rossi’s latest film offers a serious perspective on what goes on behind the scenes of a New York couture exhibition

Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team at work in Andrew Rossi's The First Monday in May. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team at work in Andrew Rossi's The First Monday in May. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The Diff365 series changes pace this fortnight. While the last movie in the programme, Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim, involved two friends taking a journey of self-discovery across the Egyptian desert with a cursed goat in tow, things have a more glamorous sheen this week with Andrew Rossi’s The First Monday in May.

The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s 2015 exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, a retrospective of Chinese influence on western fashion which would become the museum’s best-

attended couture exhibition in the institution’s history.

It is an unusual topic for a

serious documentary. At times we get the impression we’re spying on planning sessions for the most expensive party to which we’ll never be invited, as Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team select decorations, seek to avoid personality clashes while table planning, and take on the unenviable task of trying to whittle a guest list that spans the Clooneys to the “Kanye-dashians”, Justin Bieber to Barack Obama, down to

500 of New York’s most

exclusive guests.

There’s depth beyond the celebrities. The film poses some interesting questions about the notion of fashion as art, and even some of the haute couture designers on screen are split on the subject – the museum’s staff even more so. Institute curator Andrew Bolton and his team fight an ongoing battle to assure the hierarchy of the Asian art department that their flighty frocks and dramatic lighting will not in any way cheapen or “theme parkise” any ancient exhibits in the halls, and we get a useful potted history of the gradual acceptance of fashion as an art form by the higher echelons of the art world.

There’s also a fascinating debate throughout about the exhibition’s validity and questions are raised about the degree to which Chinese influence on western fashion is a colonial issue, or in fact a return to the much-derided orientalist days of yore, although the film is far from

a polemic.

The First Monday in May is a solid documentary. Its talking heads and fly-on-the-wall scenes may not bring anything new to the genre, but the unprecedented year of access granted to Rossi means we get a thorough grounding in the subject.

Whether that subject will have appeal outside the ranks of high-fashion aficionados is a matter for some debate, and cynics may well see some scenes as little more than a bunch of luvvies becoming far too excited over a selection of overpriced wardrobe items, but for the fashionistas and the celebrity watchers, you won’t find a more A-list selection of either on the big screen anytime soon.

The First Monday in May is in cinemas on July 13

Updated: July 12, 2017 05:49 PM