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Met Gala Musings

Waterfalls of bougainvillea make the world stop – any kind: the short bursts of pink, the mini riots of wax crayon effusions – magenta mixed with yellow bursts mixed with purple flares. The non-stop showers that rain down from trees in multicolor explosions that make you giddy at the sight of so much beauty.

Imagine this were a gown.

Rei Kawakubo, legendary designer of legendary Japanese fashion house Comme des Garcons did. And poured this floral abstraction over Barbados born beauty Rihanna. That was 2 years ago. I still think about it. The simplicity of the idea. The daring of it. It encapsulates the spirit of design. A vision that will, like a visiting relative your mother warns you about, tempt you with the notion of possibilities, open the door just a little bit to an unknown that beckons and is kept firmly closed by tradition minders.

Imagine a compacted Milky Way. All the stars crushed together like diamonds, a commotion of dazzle and white light. Imagine this is a dress. Versace did in 1995 and cast it over the perfect body of Naomi Campbell. People still talk about it.

When people wonder what the Met Gala is about, it is this. This is the point. The Met Gala is the opening of the towering doors to a vaster space for the world to gape at, gasp at, whisper in amazement at, wonder at – and maybe sometimes enter. It is the untying of knots that will not be untied – those of unyielding conformism.

It began as a fairly ordinary, annual fund raiser in 1948 by publicist Eleonor Lambert held on the 1st Monday of May to benefit the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and its changing themes, because the Costumes Institute is the only department that has to fund itself – because Is Fashion Art? was still a debate between those who decide on these matters. The Gala opens the spring exhibit and is built around the season’s theme. It is the curatorial departments’ main source of income for the year to take care of exhibitions, publications, acquisitions and improvements. In the beginning, attendees were NY high society and fashion industry. From 1972 under the stewardship of Vogue editor in Chief, Diana Vreeland, it became more glamorous attended by the who’s who of the glamour world. There’s a cocktail hour and a formal dinner, a viewing of the exhibit in between.

Then Anna Wintour took over, after Vreeland died and the event has become the biggest global party of the year with the brightest stars from the fashion industry, politics, sports, film and music attending – in short, if you are seen to be a beautiful person, you are invited. The rest of the 6 -700 guests pay tickets that cost up to $35 000.

The Gala is the most significant punctuation mark for anyone with something to say, to underline or to merely make an entrance. Brands launch themselves, stars propose to each other, fashion houses express themselves with more and more abandon, celebrity activists blend fashion and satire to make their feelings on a subject very clear – Madonna in a gown that covered everything but the parts that normally are covered as a statement against ageism.

The Gala is never overtly political. When Harry Styles arrives in a dress, he just is and it is left to the onlookers to discuss the phenomenon as part of our changing times. Which makes the Gala more effective as a platform of social reform, as a natural bend in the river that establishes yet more natural expression or freedom to experiment. Sometimes it is just the sheer joy of creation – Katy Perry as a chandelier.

Sometimes it is beauty redefined or perceptions altered. Most importantly it is defiance by the powerful that cannot be crushed. You can’t imprison a Cher striding on to the red carpet in a transparent jumpsuit. You can’t so easily dismiss a near naked Beyonce when this is an event that was eagerly attended by the likes of Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy. If convention has met its match, it’s in the Met Gala. It never asks why. It’s always, why not?

By Malini Aikat

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