For the past fourteen years, the first Monday in May has been recognised as the date of the highly anticipated Met Gala; one of the most exciting events in the social calendar. The Gala’s combination of high fashion with artistic vision creates a captivating red carpet, that features a multitude of exotic outfits from the weird to the wonderful and everything in-between. Alas, the Gala has been indefinitely postponed in light of Covid-19, and so what would have been a discussion of this year’s carpet is now a reflection on the Met’s carpet in recent years. So, here’s a comprehensive recollection of the themes, attire, controversy and reigning queens and kings of the carpet.
Established in 1948, the Met Gala, formally known as the Costume Institute Benefit, is an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. The theme of the event corresponds with that year’s Costume Institute exhibition. The themes have pushed traditional societal norms, as well as cultural binaries spanning everything from Punk, to Chaos to Couture. More Recent themes have included China: Through the Looking Glass; Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination; Camp: Notes on Fashion. Each theme enables guests to reimagine the theme for themselves, incorporating their style and perspective, which produces one of the most interesting and diverse carpets.
Heavenly Bodies is a theme that forced fashion to synthesise a modern interpretation of Catholicism with centuries of tradition, and the result was truly divine. Common themes among the carpet included embroidery, red fabrics, and crosses. The usual queens of the carpet exceeded all expectations and made an appearance in lavish outfits that captured the Catholic imagination and honoured its beauty. The exhibition also received artefacts from the Vatican to compliment the theme, including protected relics worn by various Popes, some of which had never left Rome before.
Despite the fact that the theme excited fashion enthusiasts, it still brought controversy. Some conservatives, Catholics and commentators accused the theme of appropriating Catholicism, such as Piers Morgan who stated, “She’s [Rihanna] dressed like my pope – if it was any other religion all hell would be breaking loose”, he continued to argue that the “Nativity is not something to be mocked and lampooned.”
Another theme accused of appropriation was the year on China: Through The Looking Glass, a theme that was supposed to demonstrate how Chinese culture had influenced western fashion. However, the theme was accused of appropriating Chinese culture, with the use of blue streaks in people’s hair, and wearing of traditional dress without consulting Chinese designers, sparked uproar on twitter with one user stating, “Wish guests knew that instead of riffing on Chinese stereotypes u could just wear literally anything by any Chinese designer ever” [sic].
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@bravoandy/Met Gala = standing date. Dress designed by me in collaboration with @hm. Headpiece by @philiptreacy. Custom @sjpcollection shoes. Jewelry by #fredleighton, @jfisherjewelry and @cindychao_artjewel. Bag by @fendi. @bravoandy in @ralphlauren. X, Sj #ChinaThroughTheLookingGlass
Moving away from the controversy and into the realm of innovative fashion, last years’ theme transcended hegemonic binaries with a queer theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion. This theme took on it’s own imagination and attendees interpreted the theme through anything from bold colours and flare, to a unique take from Jared Leto who brought a replica of his decapitated head to the carpet. Never one to disappoint, the costume apparently took six months to prepare as he needed to specially make his life-like dummy. Another costume that caught the eye of fashion fanatics was Zendaya in a transformative Cinderella dress that combined queer with fairytale to create this work of art.
The Gala will remain one of the most exciting and controversial red carpets as designers and esteemed guests interpret various themes to create a range of diverse looks. This years’ theme About Time: Fashion and Duration would have explored enduring themes in fashion, ironically, but the cancellation will provide designers with another year to prepare for the carpet.