Met Gala Notes From The Underground

Is there such a thing as the PMGB (Post Met Gala Blues)? As fashion folk, especially here on the East Coast (it’s our Oscars, baby!) we spend so much time obsessing, hyping and inflating the exhibition/gala (much like one of Rei’s designs) — thinking, talking, writing about it in an anticipatory manner, that, once it’s all over, it’s likely that some feel like the wind was knocked out of them. I liken it to the recent FX mini-series “Feud” which relentlessly examined Joan Crawford and Bette Davis’s frenemy relationship. In a moment of relative civility they compare notes, both agreeing that even though they were once each regarded as being at the top of their game (Davis as an uber talented character actress and Crawford as a great beauty), although it was wonderful, it was still never enough.

Laurel Marcus in Comme des Garcons
All other photos Laurel Marcus

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10:00 AM –Thoughts from the Press Preview. Walking along Fifth Avenue, the police are starting to unload the steel barricades that serve as leaning posts (more about that later) but are meant as crowd control. A woman-of-a-certain-age walking in front of me asks nobody in particular what is going on here. Yes, we Jaded Fashion Folk (JFF) don’t realize that there are indeed the uninitiated — denizens of Gotham that don’t subscribe to our brand of crazy and have no clue about the single most important event of the yearly fashion calendar! I spy Marilyn and join her near the front in the longest snaky line outside of the 81st Met entrance. We are directly behind Suzy Menkes who compliments my CdG outfit! I can go home now.

This exhibition is not in the so-designated Costume Wing which surprises me. I had read, and was prepared for bright lighting but now that I’m awash in it, it’s almost clinical. Dr. Kawakubo will see you now, however she may attach an extra set of hands or exclude holes for your arms (lol). Fact: since the designer owns the textiles she reportedly didn’t care about the possible ill effects of the prolonged or intense light, requesting a Dover Street Market store-like ambience. 

There are a combination of open display spaces interspersed with several igloo-like structures which one peers into almost like those panoramic sugar Easter eggs of yore. They have run out of the guide pamphlets due to record numbers of press turnout (over 500 people) but Curator Andrew Bolton mentions in his remarks that you are encouraged to find your own way through the circular maze-like exhibition.

Morning press reception

We crowd painfully into elevators, adjourning to the Petrie Hall for remarks which are brief. Anna is sans sunnies and unsurprisingly, not wearing Comme des Garcons — she reportedly hasn’t worn the brand “since the ’80s.” Caroline Kennedy is happy to support her friend Rei who she came to know as former ambassador to Japan, and is wearing a colorful CdG motorcycle style jacket. Rei is whisked magically in for about 30 seconds for a photo op — since she is very petite, those immediately surrounding the podium can perhaps get a shot. I glimpse the top quadrant of the left side of her head and face for a nano second.

Grace Coddington

One more quick tour around the exhibition and I am out blinking into the sunlight. I stop in to see my friend Patrick at Roundabout Consignment on Madison who tells me that Rei and her husband were in the store on Saturday and looked at everything including “my coat.” He is referring to a black trench style which I had remarked reminded me of a Comme des Garcons piece due to the textured honeycomb lightweight fabric and the exaggerated hip style reminiscent of her 2D collection. I can’t say why exactly this gives me joy — here she was probably wondering who jacked her design!

Katie Holmes & Zac Posen

5:45 P.M. Round Two: Met Gala Arrivals aka who will follow the Avant-Garde dress code? This is my fourth and probably least successful attempt at this folly. I arrived a bit later than usual and managed to get a front row spot near the car port where most attendees alight from their vehicle. Why are there never any buses when you want one but now that they are blocking everyone’s view, one goes by (or worse, sits there) consistently. One particularly large policeman keeps stationing himself directly in front of me. A guy in a car calls out “Is this a wedding?” “Yes,” the policeman tells him.

Hamish Bowles

I am standing next to two young men, one in particular who knows who everyone is, and is aided by virtue of his crystal ball ie. Instagram and Snapchat. At one point he even knows the license plate number of the car that the Jenner girls are arriving in, unfortunately to no avail since they must have been ushered in closer to the red carpet entrance. Arrivals at the event are actually choreographed — less important celebs (not including the co-hosts) are given earlier arrival times building to a crescendo usually with Beyonce but since she is sitting this one out with a bellyful of twins, it fell to the second most popular female: Rihanna (who of course, didn’t disappoint).

There was a balletic pattern to the black limo, or the occasional black van (which would really whip the crowd into a fever pitch) disembarkation process. Generally an underling/dress wrangler would pop out of the left hand side of the vehicle or occasionally out of the trunk(!) in order to fluff the celeb’s gown, while the celeb would get out on the opposite side from the crowd. Sometimes the assistant would do the attendee’s hair as well. For the people stationed along the same side of the street as The Met, the thrill came when an attendee would lower the tinted car window and say hello to the crowd. Unfortunately, something got lost in translation between the two sides of the street and we were not left in the proverbial dark over the occupants of the car or worse, thought it was someone more popular.

Unlike past years, very few celebs stopped to wave to the crowd after getting out of the car. Those who did included Mindy Kaling, James Corden, Kerry Washington and P. Diddy. When the long line of cars filled the street as far as the eye could see, some got tired of waiting and jumped out to walk including Jessica Chastain, Caroline Kennedy (in a Rei floral tiered runway creation) and Tory Burch with two dressed by her: Zoey Deutch and Kate Bosworth.

On my other side was a middle-aged woman who remarked “they should film a movie of what goes on in the crowd here. They’re missing a golden opportunity.” She marveled at a few dresses including one that had the look of inflatable porcupine quills saying that she wouldn’t want to sit near it’s wearer, “I’d be touching and playing with those quills all night, which probably cost around $50,000.” Here’s where I started to hate myself. As Thom Browne and Amy Fine Collins went by I ID’ed them for her; she hadn’t heard of either. I also spotted Aerin Lauder and later Caroline Kennedy, who most of this crowd wouldn’t know since they weren’t born yet . Of Kennedy she said: “At least she’s dressed in theme, in keeping with the honoree and his designs.” I hesitated not knowing if I should correct her until finally I could take it no more saying, “Yes, that dress is by the designer Rei Kawakubo and she’s a woman.” Shortly thereafter she ceded her front row perch to a Millennial. Gee, I hope it wasn’t something I said.

– Laurel Marcus

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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