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The 7 Met Gala attendees who actually know who Rei Kawakubo is

A Comme des Garçons theme didn’t stop celebs from dressing in utterly tedious, pretty clothes.

The Met Gala. To paraphrase Cady Heron: in Fashion World, the Met Gala is the one day a year when a celebrity can dress up like a total freak and no other celebrities can say anything about it. Outrageous, out-there outfits are not simply permitted, they are encouraged: more than just a fashion event, this is an evening designed to celebrate costume (it’s a benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute). The Oscars red carpet it is not.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the celebs from dressing in utterly tedious, pretty clothes year after year.

This particular Met Gala was in celebration of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, the founder of revolutionary fashion house Comme des Garçons, to coincide with the opening of the Met’s new exhibition showcasing her work over the course of her career. As the New York Times review of the show concludes, “what Ms. Kawakubo creates is not all even recognizably clothing. The pieces may be elaborately bulbous or bulging; tatty or fraying; they may or may not make allowances for their wearer’s arms, or faces, or vanity. Many designers work with the goal of making women look good. Ms. Kawakubo seems to work with the goal of making women look again.”

Garmets from the 2017 exhibition Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between

Of course, that didn’t stop the celebs from dressing in utterly tedious, pretty clothes. Take a look.

Then there were those who made a weak nod to Rei by dressing in her signature shade of red, but otherwise remained traditional.

There were a few valiant exceptions. Here are the guests who got the memo and dressed to theme.

1. Tracee Ellis Ross

You can’t go wrong wearing coture Comme des Garçons to a Comme des Garçons-themed event. Amazing structure and colour.

2. Anna Cleveland

Also in Comme des Garçons.

3. Ruth Negga

It’s Valentino, but the structure of this dress pays homage in just the right way.

4. Helen Lasichanh

She presumably needed spoon-feeding (if there is, indeed any food at a Met Gala), but Lasichanh committed 100 per cent to this vintage Comme des Garçons piece. Respect.

5. Michele Lamy

On theme and amazing. This is another Comme des Garçons piece.

6. Solange

A puffer jacket with a train! It’s perfect. All of this look is by Thom Browne, which Solange said on Instagram is a nod to Kawakubo and Missy Elliot in equal measure.

7. Rihanna

Vogue describes this Comme des Garçons garment as “a wildly sculptural bonded laser-cut satin jacquard piece from the autumn/winter 2016 collection originally inspired by 18th Century punks.” Phew. Of course, Rihanna is the queen of the Met 2017.

All pictures via Getty.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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