Fashion, Venue

The Messages of the 2021 Met Gala

Following the Coronavirus pandemic, the Met Gala was rescheduled to the 13th of September this year, with vast anticipation surrounding the event. Seen as the main fundraiser for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is regarded as the annual crescendo of fashion, art, and popular culture. According to Vogue, the event raised eight-figure funds for the museum  – with 2019’s edition also raising £12 million. This year’s theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” and showcased outfits influenced by the sociopolitical climate in the US, references to American icons, and the promotion of American designers. 

Old Hollywood glamour certainly proved a popular sub-theme, with Megan Thee Stallion wearing a Coach dress and Billie Eilish in a peach Oscar de la Renta ball gown. However, it was those who chose to emulate pioneers of the era that stole the show. Yara Shahidi chose Josephine Baker, an American-French performer and civil rights activist, as an inspiration. Meanwhile, Gemma Chan took inspiration from Anna May Wong, often considered the first Chinese-American Hollywood star. 

There were, however, odes to more modern icons – notably, Nikkie de Jager and her reference to Marsha P Johnson, a black trans-rights activist who is credited with playing a big role at the Stonewall riots. The “P” in Marsha P Johnson stood for the phrase Marsha used when faced with negativity – “Pay it no mind”, which Nikkie has embroidered on her dress. Other references include Kaia Gerber’s Bianca Jagger-inspired dress worn at the 1981 Met Gala, and Gigi Hadid in Prada using America’s first ladies as a reference point. 

American Materials were also a focal point. Stars like Ben Platt and Lupita Nyong’o both wore full denim ensembles, whilst Jennifer Lopez and Pharrell Williams adorned themselves with leather and fringing, associated with the American “Wild West”. Whilst most attendees stuck to one or two designers, Kris Jenner and Timothee Chalamet highlighted the breadth of American designers by sporting several different brands in their outfits. In an interview with Vogue, Kris Jenner said: “… mix and match is American fashion,”.

Symbols of America and national identity shone during the event. Actress Lili Reinhart wore the state flowers on her dress, whilst Model and Entrepreneur Karlie Kloss sported a dress shaped like a rose, the national flower of America. In contrast, singers Rosalia and Saweetie referenced their pride in their other identities. Saweetie trailed a Filipino flag behind her dress and Rosalia wore a custom Rick Owens dress inspired by the traditional Spanish garment worn at “Manton de Manila”. 

Commentary on the sociopolitical climate of the US was also prevalent. Rep. Carolyn Maloney wore a gown with Suffragette colours and banners saying “Equal votes for women.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also donned a slogan, with “Tax the rich” across her back and handbag. Ocasio-Cortez also chose to wear Aurora James – “A sustainability-focused, black woman immigrant designer.”

The catchlines also turned to sexuality and gender. For instance, with model Cara Delevigne wearing a Dior army vest with “Peg the Patriarchy” inscribed on the front and American soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s “In Gay We Trust” purse. Daniel Levy dressed in a Loewe suit was a highlight of the night. The suit was inspired by an art piece from American artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz, christened as a celebration of “queer love and visibility” by Levy on his Instagram.

Two attendees chose to embody the traits and words associated with America – bravery, freedom, and hope. Both Olympic gold-medalist Sunisa Lee and Model and Entrepreneur Iman chose to wear gold. Iman, who wore a spectacular Harris Reed gold corset, trousers, crinoline, and headpiece said in an interview with Vogue: “This whole evening is about hope – a ray of light,”. Sunisa Lee chose a gold SUKENIA dress, in reference to not only her gold medal success but “bright light.” These two dresses chose to represent hope and light after a pandemic and a new chapter for fashion. 

With the Met Gala’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”, a range of designers, visuals, interpretations, and thereby messages would crowd the carpets of the event. Whether Hollywood, nostalgia, national identity, politics, or sexuality, the messages this prompt spurs were wide and varied, showing us that “America” is not composed of a monolith, but an amalgamation of many things. 

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Freyja Elwood

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January 2022
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