Review: The First Monday in May

Since The September Issue came to our screens back in 2009 and the enigmatic world of American Vogue opened up before our eyes, the market for fashion documentaries has exploded. Bill Cunningham: New York; Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel; In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye; Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s; and Dior and I have been watched and re-watched endlessly by fashion industry insiders and fashion students alike. These, alongside movies such as the ever-quotable The Devil Wears Prada, have helped bring fashion to the forefront of culture, exposed what goes on behind the scenes and crucially , somewhat de-alienated and democratised the world of fashion to those outside of it. Fashion films and documentaries make the unreachable world of fashion magazines and designers human, approachable, and relatable – something fashion often struggles to be for the large majority of people.

Considering the huge success and acclaim of The September Issue and other documentaries, there is little wonder a new fashion documentary is back on the silver screen. The First Monday in May, directed by Andrew Rossi, known for his insider and expose films such as Page One: Inside the New York Times or Ivory Tower, is yet another quest into the world of American Vogue. This time, however, the world-class institution is joined by another – The Metropolitan Museum of Art – in a movie which uncovers the preparations, ordeals and, inevitably, fun, that goes into putting together The Met’s annual fashion exhibition and its famous opening night  – The Met Ball.

On the first Monday in May 2015, The Met was witness to red carpet event extraordinaire. A charity event like no other. Set up to sponsor the Consume Institute of the museum, The Met Ball is a party everyone wants to attend, but only a few make the cut. A party that sees the most glamorous fashions and amazing performances. A party everyone talks about, knows about and pores over the next morning on the Vogue website. A party which, in 2015, raised $12.5 million. Now, who said parties were frivolous?

Celebrating the launch of the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, models, actors and actresses, musicians, politicians, designers and fashion folk stepped out on the famous Met stairs in the best couture money can buy, all beautiful-faced and smiling at the cameras, as everyone screamed their names. Looks easy, doesn’t it? Well, this is exactly the myth Rossi’s new film works to abolish. The ball is only a reward for the incredibly hard and demanding work, sleepless nights, juggling diplomatic concerns with making a strong statement (such as displaying an image of Mao Zedong among Buddha statues), thousands of meetings, travelling all over the world and very tight schedules that precede and allow the unveiling of the magical world created inside The Met. Following the fantastic Andrew Bolton, the head curator of The Met’s Costume Institute, and his right-hand and a Met trustee, Anna Wintour, The First Monday in May tells a tale of the exhibition, from conception, through its many issues, successes and worries, to its final stages. It is a moving portrait of a man who has dedicated his life to the museum and to fashion – to showing that clothing is, indeed, a form of artwork and not a medium that can be dismissed as something irrelevant or superficial. It is, too, a portrait of a woman who is often seen as fierce and cold, but who, in the movie, shows her passions and worries, where we see her as a mother and as someone completely in awe of art and fashion, someone who even appears humble at times.

The First Monday in May has nail-biting drama at times. It is deep, intellectual, and moving. It has stunning imagery, rare cameos by John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and the late Bill Cunningham. It marries two distinct cultures beautifully and tactfully. It allows everyone a look into the most exclusive event on the social calendar and lets those unable to visit the exhibition discover its treasures at home. Ultimately, it is loads of fun, “a Super Bowl of social fashion events” according to André Leon Tally, who is also filmed tutting at Mr and Mrs Clooney for not stopping to talk to him. Diane von Furstenberg also seems to be having a blast, strutting her stuff to Rihanna’s live performance of Bitch Better Have My Money. If it’s good enough for fashion royalty, it sure is good enough for us. Just in case you needed more reasons to drop everything and run to the nearest cinema, with 800,000 visitors, China: Through the Looking Glass topped the blockbuster Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. Now, surely, a movie about that is worth seeing!