Thursday, 9 June 2016




So I may have dropped the ball a little. Last month, while I was thinking about lingerie, the Met Gala happened.

For brief context, the Met Gala is a fundraiser for the Costume Institute and celebrates the opening of their annual exhibition, which also supplies the theme for the evening. The annual event began in 1948 and while it has been a social staple since the 70s, the intense scrutiny and expense surrounding the event are much more recent (source). Now, while the event is technically open to the public, it’s $30,000 for an individual and $275,000 for a table and there are only ~ 600 tickets. The exclusivity surrounding the gala in part because the guest list is tightly controlled by the chair, who uses it to continue the tight immersion of the fashion industry into the event. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief at Vogue, chairs the event and celebrity designers are often brought in as co-chairs. Unsurprisingly, this results in monied fashion labels contributing and vying for publicity via their guests. (source) The resulting coverage of guests arriving rivals is comparable to the Academy Awards, and is the only time I've seen the Met on E! Entertainment.

The 2016 theme, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” yielded interesting, glittery confections that are simultaneously 22nd century and gilded age glamour. A few outfits addressed the thesis of the exhibit, which looks at how technology influences high fashion. These range from Beyonce in an unexpected use of latex to Karolina Kurkova in a gown partially designed by IBM’s Watson (source). This ambiguous use of the theme is better than last year, where “China: Through the Looking Glass” resulted in some stunningly tone-deaf outfits that demonstrate how costume parties can go wrong. But comparing the two galas and exhibits is surprisingly difficult. Both exhibitions end at the present and look towards the near future but China: Through the Looking Glass has a much grander scale, moving through the entirety of a history from the other side of the world. The 2015 gala in turn demonstrated how surprisingly shallow aesthetic influence can be. Manus x Machina is more focused on the internal mechanisms of fashion as an industry. Working towards this theme requires a deconstruction of creation process, as the collaboration between Kurkova, IBM, and design house Marchesa demonstrates (source).

Kurkova at the 2016 Met Gala. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images. Source.
Kurkova also introduced the dress on her Instagram, since it responded to emotions tweeted at her that night. 

So, what does it mean to create a dress to the theme? Every new, often laboriously and meticulously created garment speaks to the historic objects on display (or rather, speaks to an imagining of the objects on display, since this is the preview and these garments can take years to make). Further, it reveals how the circus of designers, celebrities, and press understand the theme and the scope of the exhibit. But most clearly, it demonstrates how the internet loves to spread images, and how the Met has leveraged the Costume Institute’s connection to the popular to enter into that economy of circulation. Last year, Rihanna, in a golden Guo Pei gown, demonstrated how the intersection of celebrity, novelty, and the gravitas of a space and time can be leveraged towards a mutual increase in social currency for everyone involved. For the Met, it attracts the eyes of a wide audience, and encourages a different way of engaging with the collections and understanding objects as living objects.

Rihanna's "Omelette dress"from the 2015 Met Gala. Photo by Josh Harner/New York Times. Source 

So, what can I apply to my smaller scale practice? Well, I have to understand what I have, what I don’t have, and how that distance can be bridged so that when it blows up on the internet, I have a good reason for doing it. Also: before posting, remember things on the internet have a long half-life (notice how meticulously documented the arrivals are but how mysterious the actual Gala is). This is why I’m not posting about my latest sewing project until I can figure out how this historical pattern can be updated gracefully. Hopefully it will probably be the subject of my next musing.

Preview/My cat "helps." Photo by author.

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