Along with just about everything else the world over, last year’s Met Gala Ball was shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic and we were robbed of the pleasure of seeing celebrities competing for headlines in head-turning, often bizarre outfits which were questionably representative of the (usually entirely unfathomable) Met Gala theme. So it’s much awaited return this week - some 18 months late and in a very different looking America to the last time we were here - was, well what can I tell you, much awaited.
The annual Met Gala, established in 1948 as a way of raising money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is timed to mark the opening of the Institute’s annual exhibition and is designed to celebrate its theme; in short, the exhibition sets the tone for the formal dress of the Gala night, and guests are expected to choose their fashion to match the theme of the exhibit. This year’s exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, opens on 18th September and deals with the notion of acceptance and belonging, with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It explores - so the press release would have us believe - the shifting emphasis in American fashion defined by feelings of fear, delight, comfort, anxiety. It concerns itself with well-being, with loneliness, happiness and responsibility,
So how did these worthy causes translate to the red carpet? Well for some people it was a straightforward brief approached straightforwardly. Lili Reinhart's dress, designed by Christian Siriano, was embellished with the state flowers from all 50 states of America; Yara Shahidi’s Dior dress was inspired by Josephine Baker, the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture. And it didn’t get more American themed than Ciara, whose Dundas dress was both a patriotic and personal homage to American football, right down to the football purse and the nod to her husband Russell Wilson's No 3 jersey.
Others chose a more complex interpretation – if America was the land of grassroots activism and protest then here was an occasion to make a high-profile statement. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a Brother Vellies dress (designer Aurora James is the woman behind the 15 Per Cent pledge) emblazoned with the rallying call ‘TAX THE RICH’ , whilst Cara Delavigne's Dior corset bearing its ‘PEG THE PATRIARCHY’ slogan turned out to be both controversial and divisive. And NY Representative Carolyn Maloney sported a dress proclaiming 'EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN' which frankly is a no - brainer but had me thinking -if there was a place for political outrage at this event I would have welcomed some lambasting of the Texas Abortion Law.
And then there was another message inherent in many of the looks, one that was about self-expression, immigration, multi-culturalism, LGBTQ+, a woman’s right to choose to wear whatever she wants.
There were some personal triumphs I felt- looks that were at one with their wearers, a perfect meeting of style and personality, more symphony than statement. Rhianna In Balenciaga, Sharon Stone in Thom Browne, Kaia Gerber in Oscar De la Renta, Lupita Nyongo in Versace.
But perhaps the biggest triumph, the most American thing about the night, was simply the fact of it. It may seem frivolous in the light of the last 18 months but the return of the red (or in this case beige) carpet is about more than escapism; it is about creativity, joy, optimism. It is about New York, America, the world picking itself back up again and inching forward. Fashion - dressing up and showing up - is shorthand for all that and more. Clothes give us leave to dream. They have the power to be transformative and transportive. And so at Monday's bash we were once again reminded that whilst sometimes a dress is just a dress, sometimes it is much much more.