Almost no one recalls that the Met Ball—The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 74-year-old annual Costume Institute Ball, which was originated by fashion critic Eleanor Lambert in 1948—was founded to raise funds for the museum’s costume wing. The event began and stayed for many years as an exclusive party for New York’s top socialites and masterful designers, and initially emphasized bucks over beauty—this was fundraising where rich people celebrated their fellow rich people.
But ever since Anna Wintour took the Met Ball’s reins in 1995, there have been two events, really. There’s the one where the now-invited designers, models, influencers, actors, actresses and tycoons dress in chic, sophisticated couture by important designers. Then there’s the one where various celebrities, understanding the power of social media, have used the ascending 13½ foot high, 154 feet long staircase to the Met’s entrance as their own personal theater. For the latter, recent dramatic arrivals by Lady Gaga, Billy Porter, Madonna, Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry come to mind. In a recent article in Time magazine, the one and only Tom Ford said, “There used to be just very chic people wearing very beautiful clothes. You didn’t have to look like the 18th century, you didn’t have to dress like a hamburger…”
Yes, for years, there have been these two camps: camp – and not camp. This year’s theme for the Costume Institute’s exhibit and for the event was the seemingly simple, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” The Institute’s head curator Andrew Bolton described it as “the evolution of American style.” This year’s added gimmick was “The Gilded Age,” so what we saw on Monday night was largely a throwback to the late-19th century era when a sudden influx of big money entered New York. It didn’t hurt that HBO’s new series, “The Golden Age,” already has the fashion set thinking about bustles, corsets, poet sleeves, cleavage and wasp waists.
There have only been a few Met Ball guests who’ve managed to nail the theme and make the theatrical chic, and the chic theatrical, namely: Rihanna, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga. Katy Perry, entering as a walking hamburger or chandelier, has gone far more toward camp, but she also has given The Met Ball a bit of a comic book feel. Last year, Kim Kardashian’s arrival in a Balenciaga bodysuit with a matte black hood obscuring her face felt like a one-note gag. But then why let the best photo opportunity of the year (sorry, Oscars) go to waste?
The event’s co-chair, Blake Lively, combined glamor and glitz in her multi-detailed Atelier Versace gown. It allowed her to transform like a butterfly, coming out of her copper-colored ode to New York City architecture to morph into a vision in aqua, topped with a seven-spike crown (an ode to Lady Liberty, a few miles away). Telling interviewers she was channeling “architecture as opposed to just the fashion,” Lively proved a point that you can indeed be theatrical while looking breathtakingly gorgeous. The train of her gown was embroidered with the same constellations that are painted on the ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Station.
Then there were those whose publicity stunts were less successful. Kylie Jenner arrived in a bridal gown and backward baseball cap—a bizarre ode to two of America’s favorite industries: weddings and baseball. Just when we thought it was—well, let’s just say it—weird, we discovered it was designed by the late Virgil Abloh, of Off-White fame.
And one can’t say that Kim Kardashian borrowing Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 had-to-be-sewn-into-it “Happy Birthday Mr. President” sheer gown had nothing to do with publicity. Not only was she accessorized with America’s boyfriend, Pete Davidson, at her side, Kardashian was more than happy to tell anyone who’d listen about the 16 pounds she lost in three weeks so she could fit into it—and also, her platinum dyed hair. Did she resemble Marilyn? No. But she had a good story to tell.
A lot of ladies went for big ball gowns and ball gown skirts—quite the opposite of the sexy sheer or cut-out bra dresses seen recently at the Oscars.
Billie Eilish channeled Gilded Age painter John Singer Sargent’s work, arriving in an environmentalist punk rocker look. The recent Oscar-winner’s Gucci seafoam corset gown with matching sheer lace gloves showcased some heaving cleavage and made her look just like a 19th-century socialite or perhaps a Western saloon girl—we couldn’t really decide which. The dress was upcycled and eco-friendly, per Eilish’s orders; even her shoes were vegan.
Actor Gemma Chan perfectly walked the line between maximal and chic in a black and silver crystal Louis Vuitton leather cape and a dress that lavishly exaggerated the hips. This was one of several hip-thrusting looks on The Met red carpet. Call it The Kardashian effect, but it’s certain that fall 2022’s new styles show volume on one’s bottom half. Flattering—or funny? You decide.
Black and silver was a strong trend on Monday night. Metallic threads and chainmail can make the simplest shapes go all-out glam. Janelle Monae’s hooded Ralph Lauren gown (similar to the one worn by Anne Hathaway in 2015) has gilded glamor from the future, as the singer and actor said. Her husband, Swizz Beatz, wore a Yankee bomber jacket. Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.
Rachel Brosnahan’s gown by Joseph Altuzarra was a backless fishtail shape—but in 25,000 gold paillettes of ascending size. It took off where Lupita Nyong’o’s gold Prada paillette Oscar gown left off, but it also weighed 70 pounds. And it was worth it, as it was one of our favorites of the night.
Lily James continued her streak of post-Pam Anderson sexy in sleeked down hair and a completely see-through beaded Versace gown. It’s like she just discovered that sex sells—and she had one toe in the camp category.
Then there were the all-out weird outfits. And these were weird seemingly for weird’s sake: catsuited sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid were adorned in scarlet and black and leather and spandex, respectively. The former’s burgundy catsuit was accompanied by a huge same-color parka cape. Is it that cold in New York in early May? The latter was all body in a Burberry black leather bodysuit and sexy stockings. Was she headed to a downtown S&M club for her own afterparty? Well, later on, yes and no—she attended one of the many after-parties in sheer lingerie.
Sort of silly but right on the trend money: Gucci Creative Director Allesandro Michele and his BFF, Jared Leto, did their best Met photo opp in twin style. That’s right: exact matching white print tuxes with thick black shawl collars and red bowties. The friends both donned chest-length black waves with jeweled barrettes and matching black-out sunglasses. They will wind up with exactly what they wanted: millions of Insta double-taps.
This year’s Best Actress Oscar winner, Jessica Chastain, looked like she was channeling Norma Desmond in a magenta sparkly Gucci turban and a much-jeweled ruby all-covered-up gown. In our opinion, she wasn’t exactly ready for her close-up—more like one very continuous camera-miming long shot on the way to Mr. DeMille.
Lizzo was almost drowned in a voluminous black and gold embroidered Thom Browne black and gold coat as she played a $55,000 rare flute—a cool idea for her entry.
Emma Corrin, of The Crown fame, has mastered a weird-but-chic vibe. In a boyish Miu Miu brown wool checked jacket, black wool vest, shorts, white tights, and a top hat, it’s hard to know what decade she was channeling. She felt more like an Alpine yodeler than a 19th-century rich lady.
When it comes to The Met Ball, Sarah Jessica Parker is in a category of one. Her giant step-draping black and white Christopher John Rogers had a 19th-century shaped skirt and a headpiece—a throwback to her 2015 tribute to her friend and fashion mentor, the late Oscar de la Renta. She topped it with a Philip Treacy headdress. With Rihanna pregnant and absent this year, somebody had to be the belle of The Ball.
In the elegant corner donning all-out pale tones were Julianne Moore, in an all-white strapless Tom Ford Marcaine column and ivory kid gloves, Daily Edgar-Jones, in a silvery Oscar de la Renta fringed flapper strapless, Alexa Chung in a strapless off the shoulder white column by Mach & Mach with rippling ruching, and Claire Danes in lovely eggshell Lanvin silk ruffles–with a black lattice netted headpiece covering her face.
Lucy Boynton’s very pale pink sequin lace gown with gold thread—from the 2020 spring summer Chanel couture collection—took 125 hours of work and was embroidered with 18,000 elements. Eiza Gonzalez stunned in a silver/white Michael Kors gown with a white feathered stole.
In fact, white feathers were another big theme of the night. While she recycled her wedding after-party dress, Emma Stone, proving less is more, donned her Louis Vuitton pale sleeveless white mini with a feathered hem and a ballerina bun, arriving as the proud recycler she is. You would never know fashion favorite Hailey Bieber had a recent mini-stroke—she posed dramatically, working her white feathered Saint Laurent cape over a sleek halter like the supe she is.
Then there was Hilary Clinton in a custom crimson Joseph Altuzarra off-shoulder gown. She had the piece embroidered with the names of 60 inspirational women, including Rosa Parks and her own mother. Madame Secretary, at last out of her standard power pantsuit, never appeared more powerful. And that, in the end, is what The Met Ball has always been consistently about.
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