The best dressers at the Costume Institute’s annual gala not only get the mission, but surpass it. Think punkified Madonna in 2013 and Rihanna in her immediately memorable Guo Pei dress in 2015. A quote from Marc Jacobs that appears in this fall’s exhibit is absolutely right: “If you want to dress, dress. The risk for celebrities, or, more precisely, their stylists, is that sometimes these efforts can appear like costumes. Or worse, boring. There were plenty of both on the Monday night red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On the other hand, certain celebrities, and the designers who dressed them, took advantage of “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” to extol the qualities that make American fashion unique: its ease, its simplicity, its iconoclasm. .
Look no further than Lorde in Custom Bode, by New York designer Emily Bode, who reuses fabrics and clothing for her famous men’s clothing line. If Tonight was her way of announcing that she is expanding into women’s ready-to-wear, she could hardly have picked a better headliner than the Solar energy singer, who happens to be Voguethe subject of the October cover. Her exquisite dress – with detailed handwork featuring found objects like pressed pennies, 1920s cabochons, and 1940s Cracker Jack charms – perhaps did more to demonstrate that recycled fashion can be fabulous than ‘a hundred summits of sustainability. The singer’s reflection focused on her accessories, seven pieces made by Prounis Jewelry, a New York-based small-series jeweler who favors 22-carat recycled gold.
Two American designers, Ralph Lauren and Thom Browne, iconoclasts with very different colors, also spent beautiful nights. American fashion is all about swagger, and no one has embodied it better than Jennifer Lopez in a custom-designed western dress by Lauren, who also accessorized vintage jewelry from her archives. Lauren also dressed Chance the Rapper in a pointy jacket reminiscent of her 1992 Stadium collection adored by Hypebeast. The curators of the exhibit, led by Andrew Bolton, Browne’s life partner, have chosen to label each of the more than 100 garments for men and women on display with what they describe as the “emotional qualities” of the exhibit. American fashion, and here are two sensational examples of “desire” and “confidence.” Other tags – “belonging”, “consciousness”, “affinity” – appeared as awkward stab wounds on awakening, a classic case to say instead of showing.
The show, alongside the just concluded New York Fashion Week, has strived to uphold the continued relevance of American fashion on the global stage. It is difficult to assess whether this has been done successfully as its second half, “In America: A Fashion Anthology”, is scheduled to debut next May. The show that opened to the press on Monday had strengths – its generous membership of emerging brands, for example, and the diversity in the makeup of the designers represented. (It opens to the public on Saturdays and runs until September 2022.)
But judging by the Costume Institute’s own recent productions – which by and large featured and were funded by European labels – “A Lexicon of Fashion” is wan, muted, unambitious and heartless. The models are presented in individual cells that undermine the premise that American fashion is a vibrant tapestry of styles, disciplines and sensibilities. Where was the energy that we saw last week? The essential brio of Michael Kors’ presentation at Tavern on the Green? The exuberance of the street that we saw in Tory Burch? The originality of Anna Sui or Willy Chavarria? All of those boxes were checked in the exhibit, literally, but they looked more like dots in a pointillist painting that never fully came together.
In this regard, the designers who excelled Monday night made a stronger closing argument in the name of American fashion ingenuity than the exhibition they ostensibly honored. And they did it, it should be noted, against a background of a red carpet dominated by European brands.
Gossip Girl‘s Evan Mock showed up in a spiked leather hood and cropped safety pin tuxedo by Browne that wouldn’t look out of place at the Eagle. It’s fantastic, the kind of transgressive statement that a red carpet like this demands. Sharon Stone’s Darth Vader silk cape, MJ Rodriguez’s towering balloon sleeves and Lil Uzi Vert’s frayed chesterfield underscored Browne’s versatility and whimsy. Remember when red carpet appearances had a sense of humor? It’s a rarity these days, but there it hung from the shoulders of Erykah Badu and writer Amy Fine Collins – Browne’s handbags in the shape of his dachshund Hector. You could also find that spirit in Timothée Chalamet’s white Chuck Taylor high top shoes (if only they had been scuffed a little) and in Sergio Hudson’s “Gay We Trust” clutch by Megan Rapinoe.
A handful of other designers deserve to be recognized: Batsheva Hay, who dressed actress / director Rebecca Hall in a floral-patterned PVC dress; Zac Posen, who assembled a denim jacket with two old pairs of jeans and ripped an American flag-like hoop skirt to shreds to turn Deborah Harry into a badass Martha Washington; Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Oscar de la Renta, whose dresses for Kaia Gerber and Anna Wintour were subtle and charming tributes to two New York greats, Halston and the founder of the house, respectively; and Eli Russell Linnetz, whose young label ERL scored two hits this week, a standout appearance in the ‘Lexicon of Fashion’ show, and dressed ASAP Rocky, who closed the Met Gala red carpet with his girlfriend Rihanna ( she was wearing Balenciaga and a ring by Thelma West Diamonds from Sotheby’s upcoming show “Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance”).
All of them lived up to Jacobs’ tenure. Each independent style personified, point of view, cheeky. And, really, what could be more American than that?
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