“The right part of my brain likes tradition and history, the left wants to break the rules.”
—Rei Kawakubo (b. 1942), founder Commes des Garçons
“Fashion’s Biggest Night Out”
Are you a rule breaker? A classicist? Something “in-between”?
Met Gala 2017 —which was held, as per tradition, on the first Monday of May—challenged a reported 650 to 700 invited guests to break with convention and boldly embrace the avant-garde, at least for an evening.
If you couldn’t make it to this year’s biggest fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, no worries: Dozens of fashion icons hang out year-round in the galleries of the Met Fifth Avenue.
Scroll below to see some of our favorite Met fashions—BEFORE + AFTER the Ball
It’s Kawakubo Time at the Costume Institute
This year, the Costume Institute’s benefit found inspiration for its theme in the intellectually and visually provocative ensembles of Rei Kawakubo, the Tokyo-based visionary behind the Comme des Garçons brand of apparel, launched in 1969.
Rei Kawakubo’s body of work—famous for conforming to neither historic convention nor the human form itself—is the subject of the Met’s newly launched exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme de Garçons: Art of the In-Between, organized by the designer in collaboration with the Costume Institute’s curator-in-charge, Andrew Bolton.
“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” Bolton explains. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”Embed from Getty Images
The concept of time plays an interesting role in Rei Kawakubo’s work.
It’s frequently written that she values originality—which she defines as “newness”—above all else, and seeks to cut off references to the past in the nonconformist pieces she constructs.
But in New York, perhaps more than any other modern city in the world—and certainly in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—fantasy, reality, past, present, and future remain forever interconnected.
People, places, and ideas engage in a virtual game of tag that finds every player, ready or not, ever chasing the “new,” “different,” and “one-of-a-kind,” but tangibly and/or spiritually linked to the centuries of art, architecture, infrastructure, and ideas that have come before.
Well, at the most basic level, the space between “past” and “future” would be the present.
Art happens every day in the here and now. Just look around you.
And so we celebrate the art and culture of the very places in which we find ourselves at this very moment—whether we are attired in Spring|Summer 2017 Commes des Garçons (“Like Some Boys”) or “come as you are.”
TIMELESS STYLE ON MUSEUM MILE
Our generation didn’t invent the concept of fashion as art, or art as fashion.
We just took it to the streets. Including Fifth Avenue.
Impeccably dressed politicians, merchants, socialites, and power couples of generations past hang in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art year-round, captured for posterity by the world’s most renowned portrait painters.
Here’s the backstory on 16 of Met Fifth Avenue‘s resident fashionistas and their Met Gala rivals, beginning with the divine Madame X (on view in Gallery 771) in her infamous shoulder-bearing black gown.
Case Study 1: An Attention-Getting Black Dress (Oh, this Little Ol’ Thing?)
Embed from Getty Images Kendall Jenner on the Met Gala red carpet in La Perla Couture.
Case Study 2: Parrots that Make People Talk
Embed from Getty Images Twenty-year-old Zendaya on the Met Gala red carpet, looking timeless in a Scarlett O’Hara silhouette by Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda: The bold color and the Scarlet Macaw parrots were the talk of the town.
Case Study 3: Empire Strikes Back
Embed from Getty Images Kim Kardashian West expressed her desire to keep things very simple—which can sometimes prove to be the most daring decision of all. Her pure white dress, by Vivienne Westwood, nods to the Neoclassical ideal. We miss everything about the Enlightenment period, to tell you the truth, so we really liked this dress.
Case Study 4: Red Roses and Veiled Allusions
Embed from Getty ImagesEmbed from Getty Images If we ever need a witness—or to make some fashion fireworks—we’re turning to Met Gala co-chair and co-host Katy Perry, dressed here in layers of red chiffon and tulle, embellished with crystals, satin ribbon, embroidery, and ruched roses by Maison Margiela Artisanal.
Case Study 5: Speaking of Flower Power…
Embed from Getty Images Our pick for most artistic interpretation of Mat Gala theme: the perennially artful Rihanna, making her Met Gala entrance in a sculptural floral extravaganza by Comme des Garçons, paired with red DSquared2 Riri sandals, laced all the way up her stems, and Rihanna Loves Chopard jewelry.
Editor’s note: A little off topic, but, we kinda love these limited-edition chandelier earrings from the Rihanna’s collection with Chopard: They might make someone a nice last-minute Mother’s Day gift… We think Sophie (below) would have liked them, too.
Case Study 6: Strong Military Presence
Case Study 7: Formal Arrangements, or Always Trust Your Cape
Embed from Getty ImagesOn the Met Gala red carpet, Sean Diddy Combs, demonstrated the dramatic possibilities of an astral-patterned cape and a confident persona. What else does a man need?
Embed from Getty Images Zoë Kravitz on the Met Gala red carpet, in a blush pink-and-black Oscar de la Renta gown embellished with real black-dyed roses and Tacori jewelry, obviously understands the superpowers of the cape idea, as well.
Case Study 8: Bow Jest
Embed from Getty Images The red carpet is not a place for loose ends or understatement: Here, in Marchesa couture, Rita Ora demonstrates the timeless power of tying everything up in a big red bow, made all the more powerful with bias cut ribbons and a fishtail train.
A length of knotted fabric embellishes the dress of Marie Françoise de La Cropte de St. Abre, Marquise d’Argence in this c. 1744 portrait by Jean Marc Nattier. On view in Gallery 615.
Case Study 9: Bling’s the Thing—A Little or A Lot?
Embed from Getty Images Gold and crystal clusters embellish the front of Diane Kruger‘s Met Gala dress, by Prada. The back? An elegant drape of pure white…not sure it’s avant-garde. But it’s certainly lovely.
Case Study 10: Red Suits You, and You, and You, and….
Embed from Getty Images At the end of the 1980s, Commes des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo famously declared, “Red is the new black.” Many celebrities on the Met Gala runway took the proclamation to heart. Here, Rami Malek stands out in expertly tailored Dior Homme. (Editor’s note: Nature Girl over here especially digs the botanical boutonnière, referencing the ginkgo, a symbol of longevity and endurance. It’s said the trees can live for a thousand years…though someone else will have to attest to that.) For the record, Mr. Malek looks as handsome in black tie and white tie as red-no-tie. But all-red suited this occasion.
Case Study 10: Pretty Perfect (Regal Bearing, No Crown Required)
Embed from Getty Images The woman bold enough to portray the current British royal monarch showed up on the Met Gala runway impeccably groomed, gracefully attired, and sans jewels. How avant-garde!!!! English actress Claire Foy, celebrated for her sensitive portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the original series The Crown, proves pretty is not a four-letter word. Her only adornments: the crystal-embellished ornaments that decorated the sleevetops of her bespoke floral jacquard dress, by Erdem. Some might not see past the beauty of the line, the train, the gentle color: But every freckled woman on the globe quietly applauds the bold beauty this off-the-shoulder look asserts.
Case Study 12: A Little Luster and a Whole Lotta Leg
Embed from Getty Images Beige goes Punk: Putting her fishnet-stockinged leg forward, Gigi Haddid steps onto the Met Gala red carpet in an assymmetrical Tommy Hilfiger design and Christian Louboutin shoes.
Well…much remains of interest in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s important collection of cultural treasures from around the globe. But, for now, we must return to our other tasks at hand.
Have fun researching art and fashion, and the art of fashion.
And a quick shoutout to Adam and Eve, without whom clothes would have been unnecessary, and people-watching on the streets of New York would be so much less interesting.