Watching a crowd of millionaires arrive at a public museum for a deliberately hyper-elitist event of debauched pageantry is the kind of thing that should make you want to scream: “EAT THE RICH!” So why do I follow the Met Gala, fashion’s gaudiest red carpet affair? Held every May at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a guest list tightly controlled by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the Gala launches the Met’s summer costume exhibit with a matching themed dress code.
Perhaps it’s because the theme is so often slippery and sly. Recent themes have included punk, Chinese fashion, Catholicism and the work of Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo; this year’s was camp. These are not straightforward dress codes, nor are they intended to be. This is a time for extravagance and daring. Woe betide the guest who is not “on theme”, or worse: dull.
Celebrities do not find it hard to be beautiful. Their beauty is usually to thank for their celebrity, and the wealth of fame can buy much of what beauty is: glowing skin, perfect teeth, the luxury of an exercise regime, rich girl hair. But the Met Gala does not ask its guests to be beautiful: it asks them to engage with fashion concepts. Often they flounder and fail. Like watching an office outsider trying to forcefully laugh their way into an inside joke, it’s painfully obvious when they just don’t get it.
It’s a rare delight to see a rich, gorgeous celebrity looking out of place. The losers sat watching at home get the power of judgement. “UGH, SO NOT ON THEME,” I shout at another stiff, under-dressed actor, scrolling through my phone from my bed in a ratty T shirt. Or: “WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT?!” Or, occasionally, “YES!” The best thrill of all: the joy of a witty, bold, winning look.
This article appears in the 08 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Age of extremes