The architecture of space

Shane Valentino on In Pursuit Of Fashion, Cecil Beaton, Cedric Gibbons, Nocturnal Animals and The Trial Of The Chicago 7

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Shane Valentino on Gaslight, Little Women, The Wizard Of Oz, An American In Paris, Kismet, Brigadoon set designer Cedric Gibbons: “If you looked at some of his sets you could see how in static positions you can create movement with the curves.”
Shane Valentino on Gaslight, Little Women, The Wizard Of Oz, An American In Paris, Kismet, Brigadoon set designer Cedric Gibbons: “If you looked at some of his sets you could see how in static positions you can create movement with the curves.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the press preview for The Costume Institute’s In Pursuit Of Fashion exhibition The Sandy Schreier Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I introduced myself to production designer Shane Valentino (F Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart, Mike Mills’ Beginners). We discussed the architecture of space for the show, his BAFTA nominated (with Meg Everist) work on Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, the influence of Cecil Beaton and Cedric Gibbons, and Aaron Sorkin's 2020 film The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (with Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Michael Keaton, William Hurt, and Frank Langella).

Jessica Regan, Andrew Bolton and Sandy Schreier with The Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Max Hollein
Jessica Regan, Andrew Bolton and Sandy Schreier with The Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Max Hollein Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

After our conversation inside the Anna Wintour Costume Center, Shane introduced me to Nathan Crowley (his partner at LAMB Design Studio), the set designer for China: Through The Looking Glass (curated by Andrew Bolton with Artistic Director Wong Kar Wai).

In Pursuit Of Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection is organised by Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, Curator Jessica Regan and Assistant Curator Mellissa Huber. Shane Valentino and Nathan Crowley created the exhibition design along with The Metropolitan Museum of Art Design Department.

Anne-Katrin Titze: It feels as if we enter a movie - one that Adrian designed the dresses for. What did you use as inspiration?

Shane Valentino: Interesting though, when I first met with the curators, we were talking and one of the first jumping up was Cecil Beaton. You can see actually with the stepping in the very first part.

And then, at the same time they were talking about the cinematic influences that Sandy [Schreier] had in her collection and also the type of garment and the time period, I was looking at Art Deco. Then I started looking at set designer Cedric Gibbons.

Sandy Schreier seen through a Shane Valentino and Nathan Crowley portal between two Gilbert Adrian dresses
Sandy Schreier seen through a Shane Valentino and Nathan Crowley portal between two Gilbert Adrian dresses Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: He did everything! From Gaslight to Little Women to The Wizard Of Oz, to An American In Paris, to Kismet, to Brigadoon and on and on the list goes.

SV: Everything! If you looked at some of his sets you could see how in static positions you can create movement with the curves.

AKT: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could swing around the corner at any moment.

SV: Exactly. The idea was that you create some kind of movement with the architecture of space. Because the thing you have to do when you're doing an exhibition, which is often very static, you still have to get people to move through the space. And often cinema is about movement, right? And about lighting and also moving through space. That was the idea that was planted.

The idea conceptually was that it's about collecting. About someone's vision, about how to start something and end something, or continue with something. We wanted to, as you came down the staircase, to see this initial intro piece and to see through to the section two.

So you can see that there's this dialogue that is happening between all the three sections. Four sections! So when you go to the left, that's the first section, there's an echo in terms of the architecture on the left and right. So that they can actually speak to each other.

Shane Valentino on section four: “You have this kind of post-modern concept but still try and make it part of the entire collection and show
Shane Valentino on section four: “You have this kind of post-modern concept but still try and make it part of the entire collection and show Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: It's a dialogue.

SV: Then there's these portals and you can see section three being an influence on section one.

AKT: The see-through sections are effective. You also did China: Through the Looking Glass [as production designer]?

SV: My partner Nathan Crowley did. He's right there, he's another person to speak to.

AKT: Great, I will.

SV: The idea is that you go through section three and you see the mirroring effect that's happening. And often the issue with section four is it's sort of a castoff. But we thought this is an idea because of the period that she was looking at, like in the Sixties and Eighties - a lot of the work is from there - it's to deconstruct the space in the front.

AKT: It's the most playful one. Like a children's playroom.

SV: Exactly. With the colour as well as with all of the objects. You have this kind of post-modern concept but still try and make it part of the entire collection and show. That was the impetus behind a lot of the architecture.

AKT: Section four is the children's table.

Shane Valentino on the architecture of space for In Pursuit Of Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection: “We wanted to, as you came down the staircase, to see this initial intro piece and to see through to the section two.”
Shane Valentino on the architecture of space for In Pursuit Of Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection: “We wanted to, as you came down the staircase, to see this initial intro piece and to see through to the section two.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

SV: That's right. Well, I hope not.

AKT: Thanksgiving is coming up fast.

SV: I hope it's not the children's table.

AKT: It connects to Sandy's beginnings as a child, starting her collection and her love of storytelling. I think it's perfect.

SV: It is, it is.

AKT: Nothing against the children's table!

SV: Exactly.

AKT: What are you working on right now?

SV: I am working on Aaron Sorkin's film The Trial of the Chicago 7. It's a period film. 1968, '69. It takes place during the Democratic National Convention when there were riots in Chicago.

It's got an ensemble cast, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance - it's a great ensemble cast. It tells the story then, but it's also what's happening currently culturally in the United States. It's really a nice parallel.

AKT: Do you like doing period?

SV: I like to go back. It doesn't matter. To me it's always about the strength of the story. It's the same thing that happens with these exhibitions, the strength is trying to tell a story.

In Pursuit Of Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In Pursuit Of Fashion The Sandy Schreier Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Sometimes people are more impressed with period pieces instead of really good contemporary works, that might not be so obvious. I spoke with [costume designer] Ann Roth recently about all the wonderful work she is doing and how in general for awards some of the very complicated subtleties might be overlooked compared to more pompous ones.

SV: Well, it depends. I mean, I did Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford's film.

AKT: A wonderful film.

SV: It did get nominated. That was BAFTA nominated for design and I think there is a possibility with contemporary that there's a look.

AKT: It was great. Congratulations!

SV: Thank you. I think there's a shift that's happening. I think that's actually the hardest stuff to do, is contemporary. I think period is easy because the references are very obvious.

With contemporary if you really want to actually say something with design through texture and colour and space, it can be sometimes a little bit more of a challenge in a good way.

The Costume Institute In Pursuit Of Fashion exhibition The Sandy Schreier Collection runs from November 27 through May 17, 2020.

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