USA TODAY International Edition

Met Gala put spotlight on class divide

- Anika Reed USA TODAY

NEW YORK – Fashion – and New York – is back in full swing.

Intricate designs abounded Monday night at the Met Gala, the annual fundraisin­g event for the Costume Institute exhibit hosted at the Metropolit­an Museum of Art, which wrapped up a whirlwind week in the city that included New York Fashion Week and the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in Brooklyn.

The annual gala’s red carpet – which typically is held on the first Monday in May, but was postponed because of the ongoing pandemic – is billed as fashion’s biggest night, and Monday’s event featured Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and others, dressed in looks from top designers and posing amid camera flashes on the steps of the museum.

But all the bright lights and glitz raise questions: Is the Met Gala what it once was? Do people still care? And should they?

The answers are complicate­d. This year’s theme of “American Independen­ce” is paired with the first of the two- part Costume Institute exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, which “uses the organizing principle of a patchwork quilt” and “serves as a metaphor for the United States and its varied cultural identities,” according to The Met’s descriptio­n. The Met Gala theme was largely ignored or misunderst­ood ( as it is in most years).

During NYFW, hints of Americana were sprinkled throughout in subtle ways leading up to the main event. Brandon Maxwell’s show opened with the song “Be Your USA” by EASYFUN feat. Iiris, and his finale featured “And the Healing Has Begun” by Van Morrison.

Designer Prabal Gurung‘ s show had the Statue of Liberty as its backdrop, and he asked in the show notes, “What is American? And who gets to be it all – or none of it?”

For many attendees, the resounding confusion was clear and disappoint­ing – though it was an accurate depiction of where we are as a country, failing to speak the same language of equity.

Fashion has proved to be a form of escapism and luxury, a necessary outlet for imaginatio­n and joy through inescapabl­y tough times. Fashion and its major players and influentia­l figures also have helped illustrate the widening of the gulf of inequity, elitism and racism as the pandemic continues and as the country is engulfed in a variety of tragedies.

What could have been a night of subversive fashion statements instead felt frivolous in the face of the world imploding around us and ultimately underwhelm­ing, illustrate­d in part by police arresting protesters just outside the Met while celebritie­s traipsed into an evening of opulence.

Few attendees went beyond uninspired yet beautiful looks. Outfits adorned with crystals, fashions featuring fur and feathers and quasi- prom dresses were the norm on the Met Gala carpet.

The bright spots included Lupita Nyong’o, draped in a denim Versace dress and sporting a hairstyle inspired by Brooklyn- born conceptual artist Lorna Simpson; Yara Shahidi, channeling Josephine Baker in a beaded, vintagesty­le Dior gown; Indigenous model Quannah Chasinghor­se, whose presence – and turquoise and silver- adorned look – brought representa­tion to the gala; Gemma Chan, whose Gurung- designed outfit paid homage to Chinese- American actress Anna May Wong; even Lopez and Maluma, leaning into the yee- haw agenda with Western- themed looks by Ralph Lauren and Versace, respective­ly.

Fans and critics alike tuned in to watch the red carpet and see images of the night on social media, though they were of mixed mind- sets with what they saw.

On Twitter, @ parasocial­yte wrote that “overall, this year’s met gala was simply underwhelm­ing. the theme was vague, the outfits were all over the place, and it just did not measure up to the past two galas, besides a few standout outfits.” Another tweet from @ vxctorvale called the Met Gala “the biggest confidence booster cuz next time yall feel ugly in your clothes just remember what a- list celebritie­s wore today.”

There still were some who were excited for the event: @ veryrare17­17 tweeted, “i love seeing everyone’s outfits for the met gala it’s like a celebrity prom.” Twitter user @ CynthetikG­aming wrote, “Not going to lie, I never look forward to it ( mostly because i completely forget about it), but damn do I really enjoy Met Gala. Looking at all the crazy gowns and outfits is so much fun.”

When fashion isn’t saying something of note or creating a moment of meaning, it’s not at its best.

The fashion industry has long touted its exclusivit­y, and the Met Gala is no different. But the most inventive fashion moments often have happened on the fringes of society, rather than at an event often centered around wealthy, cisgender white people. The Met Gala always has had its shortcomin­gs, but people are taking more notice through the dissection of the event on social media.

The Lexicon of Fashion exhibit is meant to look forward to the generation of designers and a newer understand­ing of fashion, which has veered toward more accessibil­ity, inclusivit­y, and egalitaria­n ideas about who gets to enjoy and benefit from fashion.

Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton put his money where his mouth was, shelling out the cost of a table at the event ( where individual tickets can go for more than $ 30,000) and inviting emerging Black designers Kenneth Nicholson, Theophilio and Jason Rembert as his guests. Billie Eilish used her platform to convince Oscar de la Renta to stop the use of fur. With their presence, NikkieTuto­rials, Barbie Ferreira, Leyna Bloom, Valentina Sampaio, Precious Lee and Elliot Page championed size inclusivit­y and trans representa­tion, which have been historical­ly excluded and ignored at the gala.

To praise and criticism, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez and Carolyn B. Maloney sparked conversati­ons about privilege with their statement- making dresses ( AOC’s dress was emblazoned with “tax the rich” while Maloney’s dress demanded equal rights for women.) Cara Delevingne and Dan Levy wore outfits that pushed back against the patriarchy and heteronorm­ativity.

The next Met Gala in May will tap into the past, correspond­ing with the second and larger part of the exhibit “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” In looking back, organizers and guests would do well in noting where fashion has succeeded in creating a dialogue around what it means to be American – not just for an elite few at the top, but for all.

 ?? THEO WARGO/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Rihanna and A$ AP Rocky attend the Met Gala celebratin­g In America: A Lexicon of Fashion at Metropolit­an Museum of Art on Monday in New York City.
THEO WARGO/ GETTY IMAGES Rihanna and A$ AP Rocky attend the Met Gala celebratin­g In America: A Lexicon of Fashion at Metropolit­an Museum of Art on Monday in New York City.
 ?? THE METROPOLIT­AN MUSEUM OF ART VIA AP ?? Among designers on display are, from left, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi, Patrick Kelly and Rudi Gernreich, part of the In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibit.
THE METROPOLIT­AN MUSEUM OF ART VIA AP Among designers on display are, from left, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi, Patrick Kelly and Rudi Gernreich, part of the In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibit.
 ?? EVAN AGOSTINI/ INVISION ?? Yara Shahidi evokes Josephine Baker in a Dior gown.
EVAN AGOSTINI/ INVISION Yara Shahidi evokes Josephine Baker in a Dior gown.
 ?? ANGELA WEISS/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Singer Maluma in Western- themed Versace.
ANGELA WEISS/ AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Singer Maluma in Western- themed Versace.

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