If there’s ever a time to make a fashion statement with a bold ensemble, it is at the MET Gala. The event welcomes celebrities to display their takes on each year’s groundbreaking fashion theme. Yet, it appears creativity and risk-taking in fashion choices on the gala’s red carpet has been diminished, perhaps in the attempt to avoid potential criticism from fashion media. As the MET Gala themes have become more avant-garde since the 2011 selection of “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” attendees have actually burrowed further into the safety of uniformity. The drama that the MET Gala once mandated from its attendees costumes is gone; the gala has transformed into a playground of grand ballroom dresses and other safe variations, with only a bold few popping out.
Originating in 1946, the MET Gala is the annual fundraiser for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and a roaring celebration of the year’s themed exhibition, which dictates the dress code for the evening. Although the objective of the prestigious gala is to raise large amounts of money for the renowned museum, the event has become a highly exclusive fashion show in its own right. Once the theme of the exhibit is released, the media and non-attendees wait in anticipation for who will bring the heat and stick to the theme. This year’s theme marked a celebration of Rei Kawakubo, founder of the label Comme des Garcons. Her intricate, avant-garde designs raised expectations for attendees to make risky fashion choices in order to stay true to the designer’s aesthetic. However, like the ensembles seen in past few years’ themes, such as Manus x Machina and China: Through the Looking Glass, most of the attendees chose to deviate from the theme, recoiling into the safety of classic gowns.
This shying away from the avant-garde theme raises concerns about uniformity and non-risk taking presiding over celebrities in their red carpet fashion choices. As Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in-Chief and MET Gala organizer, has stated in past interviews, everything has become the same on the red carpet. In 2014, the fashion queen lamented that celebrities “have all these teams of people telling them what to do, what to wear, how to do their hair, makeup. And they're so scared of being criticized, whereas, you know, what's wrong with looking different? How many mermaid fishtail strapless sequin [gowns] can we see?"
At the MET Gala, we have come to expect to see at least five different variations of the naked dress or another fashion trend that has overrun its course. Harper’s Bazaar Arabia called out the MET Gala 2017 red carpet participants for not sticking to the dress code and instead falling back on “the goddess gowns and column dresses that have become de rigueur at the Oscars and Golden Globes – safe choices that are not likely to ruffle any feathers and will easily make it to many best-dressed lists of the year.” The publication criticized “publicity-hungry” fashion houses for the sterilization of red carpet fashion.
The drama and risk taking in style can only be seen on the select few whose stylists push for breaking the norm. For some, declining to make risky fashion choices assures they’ll stay off any notorious worst dressed lists. But, conforming prevents them from bursting out of the pack of monotonous uniformity. With the MET Gala, it should be expected that those with the status to participate in the fashion elite’s shindigs actually step up their game for the highly publicized event.
Those unafraid to play with the theme are the same figures who set the bar of fashion in the mainstream world. Singer Rihanna and actress-singer Zendaya consistently turn out for the MET Gala in the best possible way. One can tell that each artist carefully studies and embraces the theme based on their iconic gala looks. Both women avoid the obvious in order to not only set themselves apart from the sea of monochrome ball gowns, but also praise the fashion designer of the Costume Institute’s annual gala exhibit. The Twitter trend “Where is Rihanna” demonstrates her credibility and validity in the fashion industry.
This year, Rihanna flaunted a piece straight from Rei Kawakubo’s Commes des Garçons collection. The singer posed as living art with the outfit sporting three-dimensional rose-colored and cerulean flowers paired with matching makeup and thigh-high gladiator sandals. In 2015, the singer commanded the carpet with her imperial yellow, floor-length fur cape by Chinese designer Guo Pei, which authentically paid homage to the 2015 theme China: Through the Looking Glass.
Zendaya also took risks this year: representing the fashion house Dolce & Gabbana, she transformed what could have been an ordinary ball gown into a MET Gala statement with an exciting parrot-flower print. At last year’s gala, Zendaya resembled Obi Wan Kanobi for theManus x Machina themed event in a muted gold dress by Michael Kors featuring a sleek chestnut bob. With Rihanna and Zendaya , the fashion industry and the public’s expectations remain high and they go above and beyond gala themes year after year. This differs from many other attendees who many expect to simply attend without a huge fashion faux pas.
But what about the attendees who stick to the theme, but miss the praise? For instance, at the 2017 gala former U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy received backlash from Daily Mail, which called her dress “bizarre...swamp[ing] her figure, leav[ing] her arms hidden. Unbeknownst to the publication, the dress came straight from Commes des Garcons. Kennedy chose the dress to reflect her time as the ambassador to the honoree’s native country, as Kennedy told Andre Leon Talley on vogue.com. The “bizarre” dress stands as a reflection of the aesthetic Kawakubo fosters throughout her legacy: designing to please herself, not to please others. The Daily Mail and the trolls of Twitter responded in a similar manner to Katy Perry’s monochromatic Commes des Garçons ensemble, comparing the singer to the wife of Beetlejuice, the eponymous character of the 90s cult classic film. If the media responds in this aggressive of a manner towards ensembles from the designer of the night, how are attendees and fashion houses expected to put their own creative twists on the theme without risking fashion suicide?
With the powerful presence of social media, everyone, fashion elite or not, can watch their favorite celebrities and fashion industry insiders ascend the MET stairs without having to wait for those pictures to hit the pages of fashion magazine’s websites. This direct dynamic prompts the fashion elite to not only be more cautious in their fashion choices, forging their own aesthetic from the safety of the norm. What do we risk when we lose the drama in fashion?