WHEN KIM Kardashian is one of the most sanely dressed women at an event, something has definitely gone off the rails. Witness the Met Gala, the annual invite-only bash for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Otherwise known as Halloween in May.
The gala is tonight, though red-carpet photos will be around into the next millennium, to the wonder of future generations. The 2019 theme is “Camp,” not as in sleeping bags and tents (though surely someone will show up wearing a sequined rucksack), but camp as in ironic, self-conscious, deliberate, exaggerated quotations of just about anything. The complete title of tonight’s gala is “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” a clever variation on the seminal 1964 essay by Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp.”
In a way, the theme is a kind of acknowledgment that the event is more about Costume and less about Fashion. True, major designers concoct outfits for their celeb clotheshorses (remember that old-fashioned term?), but the results are often off the charts—not in the haute couture sense of being a confection that few can wear and fewer can afford but in sense of . . . why?
The theme of last year’s gala was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”—with cooperation from the Vatican! Catholic priests, on up the chain of command, get to wear the glittery stuff in real life while poor nuns seem condemned to matt black and white (though some of their headpieces are cute). So I might’ve expected dozens of Sicilian widows in black, but by now I knew better.
Interpretations of the theme were on the order of Ariana Grande wearing, essentially, the Sistine Chapel, those iconic images reproduced on the swooping skirts of her gown. And Katy Perry wearing Versace-as-Archangel-Gabriel with six-foot wings that countless ostriches must have laid down their lives for.*
And I haven’t yet mentioned Sarah Jessica Parker, who can always be counted on to push the apparel envelope. On her head she wore an entire shrine, topped with a big red Sacred Heart of Jesus. I couldn’t get close enough to tell if the jewel-encrusted headpiece was home to a Nativity scene or the Crucifixion. Given that her outfit was designed by those naughty Italian boys Dolce and Gabbana, either was possible.
However, I didn’t expect Jennifer Lopez showing less skin than usual (and Zoe Kravitz showing more than I thought possible and still be, technically, dressed). Or Rihanna decked out in a pearl-and-rhinestone-studded strapless mini dress, maxi coat—and bishop’s miter (you know, the pointy headpiece; the pope wears one too). The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove was hanging around her neck.
Wasn’t that camp enough for the powers-that-be at Vogue magazine, under whose auspices the gala gets wilder and wilder each year? Apparently not. But after perusing pictures from earlier galas, I suddenly thought, Maybe those editors were just trying to get women back into, you know, clothing, garments that embellish the body but also cover it up.
Put Hollywood and the fashion catwalk in the same room and there will always be a lot of skin on display—bared haunches, architecturally reengineered boobs, that sort of thing. It doesn’t help that most of the photogs who cover these events are men: Show enough skin and they’ll take your picture (from several angles) and put them out there. Bingo! Your fees just went up.
The 2015 gala was a real glitter-and-skin event, with Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian doing the nude netting thing, where the slightly more private parts are camouflaged by sequins or pearls or other forms of flash. Jennifer Lopez showed up with chains and a bared hip. That year the theme was “China: Through the Looking Glass,” but those women didn’t seem to notice. That was the year Rihanna displayed a brilliant yellow fur-trimmed couture outfit by Chinese designer Guo Pei, with an embroidered train that cascaded down the red-carpet stairs like a peacock’s fan. It was glorious, it was ridiculous, but at least it was a real garment and spoke of the Chinese influence the way the evening’s outfits had been invited to.
Please don’t misunderstand: The outfits are wonders of the needlework trade, glorious ideas no doubt painstakingly crafted. And yes, we all enjoy watching these rarefied creatures strut around (those who can move at all) in their finery. And again yes, these are the outliers; the majority of the female invitees are elegantly put together for the occasion. But those aren’t the images that burn new holes in our retinas, that make the ETV coverage.
In 2014 Kendall Jenner made her gala “debut” in an almost demure strapless champagne-color satin “corset dress” that hugged her body so tightly that she lay down in the car on the way to the Met because she couldn’t sit (she posted a selfie and said so, that’s how I know). Four short years later, in 2018, she went from total control to total exposure, plunging the back of her dress below the waist, the netting exposing her buttocks (buttocks to kill for, but still). Guess which dress got her more play. Oh, don’t even bother. Just turn on ETV at 7pm, or check out Vogue’s Facebook or Twitter feeds, and just enjoy the ridiculous splendor of this End Times bash.
*There are ways to collect feathers from ostriches that don’t involve killing the animals, but that’s not what happens at an industry level.