The United States is a relatively young country, and this year's American fashioned-themed Met Gala seemed, in many ways, like a nod to that fact. The hosts were a Gen Z dream team: Amanda Gorman, the 23-year-old poet who performed at Joe Biden's inauguration; Timothée Chalamet, the 25-year-old star of Dune; Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old tennis champion and mental-health activist; and Billie Eilish, the 19-year-old music phenom.
This year's gala was framed as part of New York's re-emergence, along with the reopening of Broadway shows, indoor dining and the US Open. Still, many designers who live in Europe and usually make the trip did not attend, either because of quarantine rules or because they have to work on their own shows. Rumours swirled that some Hollywood stars also chose to sit this one out, perhaps because of health concerns or because of the fear that partying while people are sick is not the best look. And some regulars could not attend because they had not been vaccinated – a requirement for all guests.
The result was a more local, younger and sportier guest list than usual (also a smaller one, as it had been downsized by about one-third out of safety concerns). But the outfits were as eye-catching as always. The dress code was American Independence, in honour of the Costume Institute exhibition it celebrated, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.
The event kicked off with a high-energy performance by the Brooklyn United marching band dressed in red, white and blue custom Adidas jumpsuits by Stella McCartney, running up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum while the gymnast Nia Dennis performed acrobatics for the cameras. (McCartney sent the musicians in lieu of attending herself.)
Anna Wintour, the longtime maestro of the event, wore a floral gown with a ruffled neck in homage to her "dear friend Oscar de la Renta", the designer who died in 2014. But she was the exception, rather than the rule, in a sea of predictably patriotic – and occasionally political – outfits. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, wore a white dress with "Tax the Rich" scrawled in red on the back.
Other attendees opted for nostalgic allusions to old-Hollywood glamour and the American West. As celebrities walked the carpet, a substantial crowd of protesters gathered on a blocked-off Fifth Avenue to rally for racial justice. The police arrested some of those who were taking part in the demonstration and who had ignored warnings to clear the street. The result was the somewhat jarring image of shouting protesters being dragged away by police officers past onlookers who were pressed against metal barricades hoping to get a glimpse of celebrity glamour. (One of those celebrities was Chalamet, who walked partway to the Met wearing an almost-all-white ensemble that included a Haider Ackerman jacket, Rick Owens shirt and Converse high-tops.)
Many of the designers whose work is featured in the museum show were invited to the gala this year for the first time, hosted by more established brands because of the price of a ticket: $35,000 a seat. That’s steep for a small business (it’s steep by pretty much any measure), but the gala is the main source of funding for the Costume Institute, the only curatorial department of the Met required to finance its own operations.
Because of this, and to make up for a Met Gala-less 2020, the Costume Institute is going to hold another gala next May to celebrate part two of its American exhibition, which is intended to be even larger. If this evening was anything to go by, however, it may not be any more star-spangled. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times
Photographs by Nina Westervelt and Calla Kessler for the New York Times