The Washington Post

A rich fashion statement from Rep. Ocasio-cortez

- BY JADA YUAN

new york — The cost for a seat at last night’s Met Gala started at $35,000, and tables went for $200,000 to $300,000. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-N.Y.) walked into the room full of celebritie­s and rich people (often one and the same) with a message: A white gown with bloodred letters on the back reading “TAX THE RICH.”

Speaking with The Washington Post as she walked up the event’s beige carpet, Ocasio- Cortez said she was anticipati­ng some blowback for attending a gala seen as elitist, and in the middle of a pandemic no less.

“I mean, I think I’m kind of at the point where no matter what I do, if I wake up in the morning, there’s going to be someone who has something to say about that,” she said as Megan Fox and Diane Kruger crossed the carpet behind her.

Formally known as the Metropolit­an Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, the black-tie extravagan­za ranks as one of the most-photograph­ed events of the year, an equivalent of the Oscars, but with many more fascinatin­g fashion risks. (Kim Kardashian, for example, wore a head-to-toe black Balenciaga haute couture outfit that rendered her ghostly and faceless, drawing comparison­s to a bank robber wearing a pantyhose to disguise their face or a Dementor from Harry Potter.) All the pomp has a noble purpose: The night is a fundraiser for the museum’s Costume Institute, which is putting on an exhibition on American fashion. The 2021 gala raised a record-breaking $16.75 million and is the primary source for the institute’s annual budget.

Instagram sponsored the gala, and plenty of billionair­es were in attendance, including Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb. Invited celebritie­s, including celebrity congresswo­men like Ocasio- Cortez, are part of the draw and get free admission.

Indeed, New York City Comptrolle­r Scott Stringer and Mayor Bill de Blasio were on that same carpet, too, and barely raised an eyebrow. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) wore a gown adorned with the purple, white and gold colors of the suffrage movement

and a sash that read “Equal Rights for Women.” Her bag read “ERA YES,” referring to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment that would amend the U.S. Constituti­on to eliminate discrimina­tion on the basis of sex.

But none have received the conservati­ve backlash heaped on Ocasio- Cortez. One Twitter user pointed out that she needed help getting down the steps, as did most women in their gigantic gowns, as if she were royalty. Another joked that she was now selling “Tax the Rich” caviar for $10,000 a can. Someone else replaced “Tax the Rich” with “Let Them Eat Cake” in a photograph. “BACKLASH: AOC Under Fire for Wearing ‘ Tax the Rich’ Gown to NYC’S Ultra-elite Met Gala,” Sean Hannity wrote on his blog.

There was one unlikely defender, though. “Not an @aoc hater. But come on, going to an event for super-rich with ‘ tax the rich’ written on your ass, won’t change a thing,” political commentato­r Ana Navarro- Cárdenas posted on Twitter. “It’s a stunt to justify her presence at an fancy shindig that doesn’t match her political persona. She still looks better that Kim K in the bat outfit.”

Ocasio- Cortez, 31, has been a lightning rod for conservati­ves since she was elected as the youngest congresswo­man in history in 2018 and is seen as representi­ng a liberal faction of the Democratic Party that is often at odds with moderate members and sometimes even President Biden. She’s been one of the most outspoken members in Congress advocating for reforming the tax code and taxing the ultrawealt­hy to pay for social services such as child care and health care. When Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO.) slept on the steps of the Capitol to protest the end to the pandemic-related eviction moratorium, OcasioCort­ez was one of the first of Bush’s colleagues to join her.

On Wednesday, Ocasio- Cortez retweeted Biden, who’d written, “It’s time the superwealt­hy and big corporatio­ns pay their fair share in taxes.”

Accompanyi­ng Ocasio- Cortez was the dress’s Black, Ghanaian Canadian designer, Aurora James, founder and creative director of Brother Veilles, a luxury accessorie­s brand centered on keeping traditiona­l African design techniques alive, as well as founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that boosts Blackowned businesses. Like the congresswo­man, she wore suffrage white. Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, often pairs such guests with designers who custom-design what they wear as a courtesy.

“I feel like if the congresswo­man was going to come to the Met, she might as well come with a message,” said James, who pointed out that Ocasio- Cortez’s dress was the product of a lot of hard work by many people in New York’s Garment District.

Ocasio- Cortez was still a bartender when she first heard of James, she said on the carpet Monday evening. “And I remember being totally blown away at the time, working from behind the bar saying, ‘Oh, my God, it’s possible and she did it,” referring to James winning a prestigiou­s CFDA/VOGUE Fashion Fund award in 2015.

She’d been inspired, OcasioCort­ez said, by how James “started out just a couple of years ago with three grand in her pocket,” selling her clothes at the Brooklyn Flea market, and was now at the Met Gala. “That’s really the story of our city,” she said. “It’s the story of we should be centered, especially as a Black woman immigrant designer in an industry where that is severely underrepre­sented.”

After the gala — which included a menu of plant-based dishes from 10 rising New York chefs and featured a performanc­e by Justin Bieber — Ocasio- Cortez appeared to be trying to head off some criticism before it started.

“And before haters get wild flying off the handle,” she tweeted, “New York elected officials are routinely invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibi­lities in overseeing and supporting the city’s cultural institutio­ns for the public. I was one of several in attendance in this evening.” It ended with a hugging face emoji.

So she released a statement on Instagram Tuesday.

She’d thought about the criticism she’d get for going, OcasioCort­ez wrote, “but honestly I and my body have been so heavily and relentless­ly policed from all corners politicall­y since the moment I won my election that it’s kind of become expected and normalized to me.”

If she’d been afraid of the criticism and not worn the dress, she wrote, she might have been called “inauthenti­c” or “too calculated.”

“But we all had a conversati­on about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle,” she continued in the statement.

She was there in her capacity as a public official trying to support a public arts institutio­n, she concluded. Then she encouraged everyone to go to the Met to see the exhibit, adding that New York City residents can even pay what they wish.

 ?? MIKE COPPOLA/GETTY IMAGES ?? Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-cortez (D-N.Y.), left, with Aurora James, who designed the dress Ocasio-cortez wore to the Met Gala.
MIKE COPPOLA/GETTY IMAGES Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-cortez (D-N.Y.), left, with Aurora James, who designed the dress Ocasio-cortez wore to the Met Gala.
 ?? JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-cortez (D-N.Y.), right, says she is inspired by the entreprene­urial spirit of Aurora James, left, the designer of her gown, who began selling her clothes at a Brooklyn flea market.
JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-cortez (D-N.Y.), right, says she is inspired by the entreprene­urial spirit of Aurora James, left, the designer of her gown, who began selling her clothes at a Brooklyn flea market.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States