I’d been waiting for the The First Monday in May since the first Monday in May and holy Rihanna was it worth the wait.
Before you watch this movie, I beg you to watch The September Issue first. Trust me, it adds dimension and depth to the story behind Vogue’s iconic leader Anna Wintour who plays one of the central roles in The First Monday in May.
I first began to appreciate fashion as an art form in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, which was based on Wintour’s former personal assistant Lauren Weisberger’s novel of the same name. Do you remember that scene when Miranda Presley talks about Andy’s lumpy blue sweater? “That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room, from a pile of stuff.”
There was such conviction in Presley’s voice when she talked about fashion. It’s the same conviction many artists have when they speak passionately about their work.
In an intimate and captivating moment, Wintour is asked about Weisberger’s novel and subsequent movie. It’s stunning to see Wintour catch her breath and smile graciously. She offers that she should thank Weisberger for elevating fashion to a respected global industry and artform.
And with that, The First Monday in May is an elegantly threaded discussion of fashion’s place in the art domain. It’s about a village of fashion lovers coming together to create the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass for the 2014 Met Gala Ball at MoMa in New York while also being a who’s who in the celebrity world.
There are several stars in this documentary including the costume institute curator Andrew Balton, Anna Wintour, Rihanna and Anna Wintour’s assistant Sylvana Durrett.
Durrett was fascinating to me. She was pretty, young, intelligent and surprisingly confident when talking to Anna. When fashion disasters struck, she placated the news to the world’s scariest boss without too much fear, and I loved that. Durrent is not the focus of the film and yet her presence has really stayed with me. Why? Maybe it was because she was the most relatable person in the film. She’s not the “pretty, young” thing. I can’t relate to that. Instead she was so incredibly real. She was the antithesis of the intimidating standards of beauty and fame represented by Wintour and Rihanna at the Met Gala.
The Met Gala’s exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass is something that dreams are made of. The film meditates on its beauty time and again by hanging on stunning frames of mannequins draped in breathtaking garments. The curator, Andrew Balton, raises the political stakes of fashion as art by placing Chinese-inspired fashion among the relics of The Met’s Chinese art collection. There is angst. There are stern words. Curators and critics alike fear for the wrath that could come as Chinese audiences take offense to mixing revered works with mere “costumes”.
The First Monday in May is breathtaking. It’s something that has to be seen to be believed.
As a woman who appreciates the elegance of exquisite fabrics that hang just so, this film delivers on beauty, style and perfection. As an audience, we laughed and sighed in appreciation together. There was a buzz in the air as the lights lifted. We were inspired. We were enchanted. We felt like satiated flies on the walls of Anna Wintour’s very closed door. And we glided away feeling like we had, for a moment, taken part in one of the most glorious nights on the fashion calendar.