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Reawakening fashion: the 2024 Met Gala 

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The Met Gala, arguably fashion’s biggest night, returned to the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday, May 6. This year’s theme celebrated the museum’s 2024 spring exhibit “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” This exhibition celebrated centuries-old garments that have become too delicate to wear due to the passage of time. The Met described the exhibition as “a metaphor for the fragility and ephemerality of fashion.”

The dress code for the event was “The Garden of Time,” based on J.G. Ballard’s short story of the same name. In essence, the story follows a Count and Countess who live secluded in their villa and remain surrounded by magical crystal flowers. Their peace is disturbed by an approaching mob of people draped in rags. To delay their onset, the Count plucks his flowers which can turn back time. As the last flower is plucked, the mob infiltrates the villa.

All the beauty encased in the villa is destroyed in the process, and it is perhaps this element of the story that the Met wished to highlight. Therefore, the intention for selecting Ballard’s work for the dress code becomes straightforward: the Met chose to share these iconic, diaphanous garments of times past with the public instead of keeping them encased in their private collection. Yet, the choice of theme seems to point to a bit of irony as well. 

The short story is often characterized as a dystopian representation of the fall of the aristocracy — completely incongruous with the lavish nature of the Met Gala, attended and bolstered by society’s elite in the heart of Manhattan.

Regardless of intention and impact, the guests and their choice of attire are always the most talked about topics surrounding the event. 

Many long-time Met Gala patrons returned to the carpet, one of which being real-life Sleeping Beauty Elle Fanning who wore a custom Balmain number. Her gown was made from a sheer resin material that mimicked her body being enveloped in crystal or ice. The fairytale illusion was further fortified with a matching pair of resin birds that floated above each shoulder.

“So that was with the birds, I felt like, you know, the princess getting dressed by her woodland creatures,” Fanning said in an interview with Vogue.

Many guests arrived adorning themselves with floral motifs — taking the word “garden” in the theme quite literally. Others used the nature element in a more subtle way. Actress Taylor Russell arrived on the red carpet in custom Loewe featuring a wooden corset and a slitted, sculpture-like white skirt. Her updo was inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s character in the film “War and Peace.” The small details that went into the look made it a memorable Met Gala debut for the “Bones and All” star.

Another noteworthy look was model Anok Yai’s three-tone bodysuit made of 98,000 Swarovski crystals paired with diamond earrings, necklace and a ring — safe to say the model took the title superstar to the next level.

Rapper Cardi B’s Met Gala outfits are always the center of attention, often requiring an entire entourage of people to help her up the stairs. This year she wore a creation by Sensen Lii, the designer of Windowsen. It was an extravagant black gown made of tulle paired with a rose-like headpiece of the same material. True to tradition, a group of seven aided the Bronx rapper in navigating the carpet.

Actress Zendaya is a household name in the realm of high fashion; her red-carpet looks always circulate social media and cement her as a fashion icon. She maintains a track record of iconic Met Gala looks, such as when she came dressed as Cinderella or Joan of Arc. This year was no different; as one of the co-chairs of the event, she arrived in Maison Margiela by John Galliano styled by long-time friend and stylist Law Roach. With the theme of the night centering around past fashion, many expected extravagant archival pulls, which Zendaya delivered with her second look: a 1996 Givenchy gothic gown paired with a 2006 Alexander McQueen bouquet hat.

One of the most talked about looks of the night was South African singer Tyla’s Met Gala debut in Balmain. The material of her dress mimicked sand, and it appeared molded to her silhouette before trailing off in the back. She paired the outfit with an hourglass clutch — a nod to the theme of the event. Once inside the venue, Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing cut the dress in half, and another cut was later made in the back. Although the cuts were likely made in order to improve Tyla’s mobility, they ironically juxtaposed the message of the theme — Rousteing’s creation was not made to be preserved but rather worn and adored for a singular night.

​​“The idea of sculpting a garment from something as ephemeral as sand ignited my imagination, and I could not be happier with the end result,” Rousteing told Vogue.

Commentary on the Met Gala varies year in and year out; many of the critiques center around the looks but some on the event itself. This year, the scrutiny around the Gala was amped up due to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Pro-Palestinian protestors assembled nearby in Central Park around the museum, but police officers barricaded the event before a disruption could ensue.

These events transpired just a couple of weeks after the Columbia University student protests, just a few miles away from the Met Museum. At the 2024 Oscars, many felt the bare minimum was achieved with some celebrities wearing ceasefire pins. Yet at the Met Gala, the blithe indifference of celebrities engendered massive block lists that have been circulating around social media. For many, the act of playing dress-up while failing to show even an ounce of acknowledgment for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza proved too grave to ignore. 

The Met may have successfully prevented protestors from remonstrating this time, but neither barricades or crystal flowers will keep retaliation at bay forever.

Kamilla Jafarova is 2023-2024 Arts and Entertainment Editor. She can be reached at kjafarov@uci.edu

Edited by Lillian Dunn.