The 2021 Costume Institute Gala: New Beginnings

Photo Randy Brooke

Notes by Marilyn Kirschner

Part 1 of “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which opens September 18th, features approximately 100 men’s and women’s ensembles by a diverse group of designers from the 1940s to the present. About 70 percent are by young and emerging designers. Some of those who share the spotlight with legendary American icons like McCardell, Cashin, Norell are almost complete unknowns; there are several I’ve never heard of before.

Halston
Photo: Randy Brooke

It was touching to see 24-year-old Tristan Detwiler, who designs for the label Stan; self-taught Cameroon born 27-year-old Claude Kameni of Lovie by Claude Kameni; 40-year-old Tremaine Emory of Denim Tears and 49-year-old Aaron Potts who founded A. Potts in 2018, proudly stand by their designs as members of the press took photos of them at Monday morning’s press preview.

Oscar de la Renta
Photo: Randy Brooke

The event included remarks by Max Hollein, Adam Mosseri, Eva Chen, and Andrew Bolton. Among the attendees were Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Virginia Smith, Sandy Schreier, Booth Moore, and designers Michael Kors, Thom Browne, Tory Burch, Yeohlee, and Christian Francis Roth, all of whom have a design featured in the exhibition..

Tom Ford
Photo: Randy Brooke

Meanwhile, Tremaine was so overcome with emotion when he saw his embroidered denim jacket and pants ensemble on display; he fell to his knees and cried. This is not the usual thing you see in the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. There’s no question it’s all about a new young generation representing a diverse class and racial cross-section of America. Would that “New Look” spill over to the Met Gala?

Marc Jacobs
Photo: Randy Brooke

In keeping with the youthquake, all 4 ethnically diverse co-chairs of the last night’s gala were 25 and younger. Vogue specifically asked some of the more recognized designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Tory Burch to sponsor young designers to ensure a mix of both established and emerging names is present.

Bonnie Cashin
Photo: Randy Brooke

The dress code for the evening was “American Independence”. Emma Elhoff is so independent; she didn’t even opt to wear an American designer but went with Stella McCartney! In all fairness, there were many guests wearing European designs. Anna Wintour said ” I really hope attendees have fun and enjoy dressing up again.” People certainly look like they are having fun, but of course, so did Gwyneth Paltrow on May 8th, 2013, when she told USA Today that she was actually having an abysmal time. “I’m never going again. It was so un-fun”.

Eva Chen wearing Christopher John Rogers
Photo: vogue.com

That being said, my choice for most “fun” outfit goes to Eva Chen, dressed in graphic and colorful Christopher John Rogers. Eva, the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram certainly knows a thing or two about Instagram-able outfits.

Red Carpet by Laurel Marcus

Photo by Laurel Marcus

After 18 months in a coma, the city that formerly never slept was jolted awake with the equivalent of 5,000 volts from a defibrillator coupled with a methamphetamine speedball. The confluence of NYFW, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the VMA’s, the first day of actual in-person school, and the Met Gala’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” made for a trial by fire, reawakening everyone’s desire to see people but also their social anxiety.

“It’s almost overwhelming, but it’s cool at the same time,” capsulized actress/singer/television personality Keke Palmer hosting the red carpet for Vogue along with Broad City actress/creator and new mom Ilana Glazer. Note to self: this isn’t your mom’s Met Gala or even your cool aunt’s – it’s your Zoomer’s TikTok moment. Anna Wintour drove that point home by selecting four under 25 co-hosts from the world of sports (Naomi Osaka), entertainment (Billie Eilish, Timothee Chalamet), and whatever world (Poetry/politics/modeling?) Amanda Gorman believes she’s in.

Back in the day (a few years ago), I used to cover this event “in-the-street” – as an upper east sider, The Met is in my ‘hood. Curiosity got the better of me, so I briefly wandered by at around 5 p.m. Whoa, momma! I quickly retreated to my lair when faced with an epic crowd of mass proportions on Every. Single. Corner!!! To think I used to be leaning on the barricades in the first row!

Returning (safely) to my computer, I found the red carpet coverage left something to be desired, particularly to those older than a minute. Palmer at the top of the carpet and Glazer at the entrance tent were undoubtedly familiar with their peers; however, they failed to recognize the likes of star couple Adrien Brody and Georgina Chapman, Director of The Met Museum Max Hollein, or even NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray. It was interesting to discover that Nina Hollein is a clothing designer specializing in upcycling, though. “You made your dress?” gawked Ms. Glazer as she totally ignored Mr. Hollein – perhaps the man of the hour. “Who’s that lady in orange?” asked Ms. Palmer, revealing her naïve appreciation of McCray.

In a supposedly scaled-down event (the guest list was trimmed by about 150), the red carpet was a dizzying array of interpretations or outright willful ignorance of the supposed “American” theme. Sure there were your rhinestone cowboys (Malouma in Versace, Ben Platt, Leon Bridges) and a cowgirl (JLo in Ralph Lauren); your celebrations of denim (Lupita Nyong’o’s Versace gown, Debbie Harry’s in Zac Posen’s own personal upcycled jacket); your tribute to old Hollywood glamour (Billie Eilish in peach Oscar de la Renta and many others); and of course your political statements (Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s ERA tribute, AOC’s Brother Vellies “Tax the Rich” gown, Cara Delavigne’s Dior “Peg the Patriarchy” land mine vest).

The rest was a mishmash of themes with designers Thom Browne and Versace in the lead, the team at Oscar de la Renta with a few notables (Anna Wintour, Billie Eilish); followed by a smattering of Balenciagas (Tracee Ellis Ross, Rihanna), three Iris van Herpen’s (shockingly), peppered with a few more Demna Gvasalias for the outré chic and seriously confounding – Kim K in “Donda” album silhouette (Kanye ruled Kim’s outfit again?! Aren’t they getting divorced, and more importantly, how do you ever get over the flowered Givenchy maternity couch she wore to her first Met soiree? This may do it!)

Before I get to my “America” awards, here are my notable Quotables of the red carpet. Billie Eilish on shedding her baggy clothing image for her “Holiday Barbie” inspo dress: “It was time. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin.” Keke’s response: “We all want to tap into that princess vibe.”

Grimes in Iris van Herpen lewk complete with light-up book and sword made from “recycled weapons”: “I love America! I know you’re not supposed to say that.”

Erykah Badu: “Fashion and music are my talismans. It’s the thing that makes me feel like me.”

Keke Palmer: “Is that Frank Ocean holding a fake green baby?” (Yes, he sported neon green hair and a matching (creepily alive) robot baby).

Host Keke Palmer in Sergio Hudson
Photo: Vogue.com

Also, Keke Palmer is reassuring a nervous attendee on what goes on inside. “Don’t worry – this is the most stressful part. Once you’re inside, it’s just like a big ol’ family dinner.”

Let’s take a moment for America – a country whose inhabitants scorn her perceived shortcomings. Yet, millions of would-be citizens teem over her borders every day to partake in the riches. Here are my picks for a few good old-fashioned red-blooded (self-created) “American awards.”

Left: Juan David Borrero & Jasmine Tookes Right: Normani in Valentino
Photo: Getty Images

“American Exceptionalism” for all-around stunning goes (in a tie) to Jasmine Tookes — glowing newlywed bride (Labor Day weekend wedding to lucky Juan David Borrero). I love the look, and she totally rocks the pixie do. Also gotta love Normani’s Valentino “regal queen” and what she calls “black girl excellence.” She’s one of several who did a quick turn-around from Sunday night’s VMA’s.

Ciara in Dundas
Photo: Vogue.com

“American Dream” — Ciara in Dundas is a triple threat tribute to her Seattle Seahawks husband Russell Wilson (he wears the number 3). I also believe this dress owes an homage to Geoffrey Beene, who made the original “sports jersey” sequin gown, and to Tom Ford, who re-imagined it.

Karlie Kloss in Wes Gordon for Carolina Herrera
Photo: Vogue.com

“American Beauty Rose” goes to Karlie Kloss in her high low Wes Gordon creation accompanied by the designer himself — the honoree at next week’s FIT Couture Council luncheon.

Gabrielle Union in Iris van Herpen
Photo: Vogue.com

“American Ingenuity” is for the Iris van Herpen creation of Gabrielle Union’s morphing movement dress which not only looked otherworldly but also changed shape as she climbed the red carpet.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing Aurora James standing beside her
Photo: Mike Coppola, Getty Images
Pete Davidson in Thom Browne
Photo: Vogue.com

“America the Brave” Pete Davidson makes his Thom Browne “Slutty nun” getup look good.

Allyson Felix in Fine Feathered Fendi Couture
Photo: Vogue.com

“American Fearlessness” – Olympic gold medalist for track and field Allyson Felix in Fendi Couture by Kim Jones. When asked how she feels about the America theme, she replied, “As an athlete who represents America, there are some things we need to move forward, but tonight we’re here to celebrate.”

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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