top of page

CHAMBRE FASHION: Met Gala 2022: Beyond the glamour

Image from : Ball gown, Marguery Bolhagen (American, 1920–2021), ca. 1961; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., 1966 (2009.300.2556a, b). The Richard and Gloria Manney John Henry Belter Rococo Revival Parlor, ca. 1850, Gift of Sirio D. Molteni and Rita M. Pooler, 1965 (Inst.65.4). Photo © Dario Calmese, 2021

For a vast majority of the fashion crowd, the Met Gala has become a superficial symbol of glamour and entertainment in which celebrities gather once-a-year in a majestic event to display a series of, mostly misunderstood, creative assignments. Since a theme is carefully picked months in advance to sustain a fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume wing. The concept is supposed to be reflected in the creative interpretation and design of elaborate garments, which are worn by privileged high figures of the fashion elite during the inaugural night, or, what is known as the Met Gala.

Nevertheless, only a few take the time to dig into the transcendence of the subjects that identify the gala, nor the conceptual content of the exhibition that takes place under the same line at the Costume Institute, or the now “Anna Wintour Costume Center”. Because even though the success of the event lays in the mediatic impact it has gathered progressively through the years, the analytical overtures that spread from the concealment of the series of designs in the exhibits speak thoroughly on cultural movements and the status quo of society.

Defined more deliberately, fashion itself is a complex language of symbols and views that represent a reflection of the most intrinsic values or interests that drive societies and individuals within their interactive circles. When speaking of trends, an analyst or forecaster relies on the extensive and profound observance of psychological, social, and even political behaviors, always traveling back and forth from the past into the possibilities of the future in order to grasp a more accurate comprehension of current states and the triggers behind them.

It is fair to say the intention behind the creation of the event was never as highly conceptual as it is today. It was Eleanor Lambert, who after years of etching after the mission of building a globally relevant fashion scene in America, came up, in 1948, with the idea of creating a black-tie, glamorous, fundraising dinner for investors and socialites to sustain the Costume Institute. In 1960, guests were invited, for the first time, to assist to the dinner event inside the Met Museum. And it was until, in 1972, when Diana Vreeland took over the creative direction of the event, shortly after concluding with her duties as head of Vogue America, that the gala was paired with an elaborate exhibition that could act as an interesting entertainment piece, as well as an excuse to build a narrative on Fashion relevancy.

Image from : Interior of the “Anglomania” gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. Photo by Michael Lisnet

The first topic picked under Diana’s direction, in 1973, was an ode to the works of Cristobal Balenciaga with “The World of Balenciaga”, which honored the renowned designer, who had just passed away a year before. Since then, themes for the gala have only gained depth and influence. Some have been focused on the entertainment of Art movements within society and aesthetics, such as “Cubism and Fashion” in 1998, where society experienced a recovery of geometric shapes related to the fast-evolving technological embracement with homes all over the world making use of the early stages of the internet and the aesthetic that followed a pixeled, digitally drawn image.

Others have taken a completely different perspective exploring questions regarding the impact of technology in mankind. In 2016, Andrew Bolton, current Head Curator, conceptualized the gala titled “Manus vs Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”, anticipating the collective entering into the Artificial Intelligence Era, one we rapidly approached following the application of progressively complex algorithms on machine learning. The works that comprised the presentation went from elaborate mile-long gowns with delicate machine-made (machina) embroidery, finished by the intervention of human-hands (manus), such as Karl Lagerfeld’s several feet long, wedding ensemble for Chanel Haute Couture, A/W 2014, one of the leading pieces of the exhibition. To impressive 3D printed structures intervened by delicate hand-made creations by the meticulous Dutch designer, Iris Van Herpen. The scene heightened a sense of wonder, as well as a sense of concern when realizing the high immersion of technology in our daily lives. Especially questioning the order of the Fashion System and the definition of “couture” in a time where artificial creations may add profound complexity and even high value. Lagerfeld himself defined his work shown as “haute couture without the couture”.

Image from : Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984) Ensemble, spring/summer 2010 haute couture Polyamide, acrylic, leather The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2016.16a, b). Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Image from : Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984) Ensemble, spring/summer 2010 haute couture Polyamide, acrylic, leather The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2016.16a, b). Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope

Interestingly enough, the analytical work in “Manus vs Machina” travels between pre-industrial garment elaboration’s basic foundations and high-technologies of the twenty-first century. A voyage seen again on the approaching theme “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”. The presentation is a continuation of a two-part series following last year’s Met Gala “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”, which was held in September, due to pandemic’s restrictions. Bolton has described the root of the concept to come from an 1,840, silk piece quilt, assembled by Adeline Harris Sears in 1856. The seventeen-year-old (at the time) made it possible to collect a signature of a celebrity or influential person in each of the 360 white squares that conform the Tumbling Blocks pattern, including Abraham Lincoln’s, gathering a “patchwork portrait of the nineteenth century”. Bolton parts from this artwork to “serve as a metaphor for the United States and its varied cultural identities.” The exhibition “uses the organizing principle of a patchwork quilt”, as it is intended to be transited in emotionally themed rooms that capture works from independent and renowned designers traveling back-and-forth since pre-Industrial times.

To study America is to observe a nation whose collective identity is founded in the values of diversity and cultural exchange. Immigration is an intrinsic part of their history and a vital cornerstone. The country as we know it to this day was founded by, mostly British and European colonial immigrants. And the influx of habitants from all over the world has continued ever since.

New Majority Ready, a U.S. marketing consulting firm focused on brand growth through cultural innovation, when sharing the analytical results of the 2020 Census in America, revealed that a new majority of 53% of the American population defines themselves as multicultural or blended households. “It is beyond race, ethnicity, or language”. Younger generations have already adopted the concept of intercultural connectivity and reject focusing on single stereotypes when referring to branding and consumer strategies.

For Bolton to have chosen a theme on American heritage in such changing times is a profound reflection on a new set of values that are sustaining youth globally. Especially at a time when issues on migration have re-gained focus with the movement generated from the war on Ukraine and the questions regarding nationalism and shelter, where so many have had to build a sense of home all around the world, as refugees.

Another interesting concept that derives from this two-part series is the patchwork quilt itself. The quilting technique throws us all the way back to the original habitants of America, the Indians who were colonized by the British. Seeking to recover our roots in search for an identity that speaks of our oldest origins is a trend we have been repeatedly experiencing in a vast diversity of areas comprising creativity. We’ve seen handcrafting and artisanal textile development from local communities everywhere. We’ve listened to the rich embracement of typical, African, tribal sounds brought into contemporary rap music by growing artists like Tems or Omah Lay, who recently released a single collaboration with Justin Bieber, “Attention”. Rural beats and suburban sounds are also leading the way into young counter-culture in many other parts of the world. In Spain, artists like Rosalía and C. Tangana have reached global recognition by recovering the cultural foundations of gypsy rhythms in Spanish Tablao and Flamenco, mutating those with upbeat reggaetón and rap.

Without a doubt, this year’s Met Gala, which will resume its happening on the first Monday in May, will give us much to reflect upon. Especially while we go through such changing and revolutionary times where identity is in constant question and the search for stable grounds to set roots on becomes more evident. The upcoming offering promises to reveal, in the words of Max Hollein, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “an evolution on the notions of identity in the United States” and explores a series of perspectives seen through presentations that speak about its history’s complexity. Details on the red-carpet displays were not disclosed, but Bolton agrees that “American Fashion is experiencing a renaissance”, which will surely give us plenty to talk about.

Images/full credits:

Architectural Digest: The Met Gala’s History and Décor Throughout the Years

Met Museum: Manus x Machina

Met Museum: In America, A Lexicon of Fashion

Met Museum: In America, An Anthology of Fashion

We do not own the rights to any of the pictures in the article. All the rights go to the authors of the pictures.


bottom of page