Balenciaga Won the 2024 Met Gala

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Balenciaga Won the 2024 Met Galagetty
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Florals? For Spring? I thought we'd gone over this years ago. It's cheesy. It's predictable. It's not groundbreaking. The 2024 Met Gala would have earned an eye roll from Miranda Priestly. The red carpet was awash in flowers—rosettes, velvet orchids, silver carnations that seemed to be swallowing Kim Kardashian like a Venus flytrap. There were flowers on ballgowns, on jewels, on ludicrously capacious headpieces. On men and women, on pop stars and actors, on Kris Jenner and Lauren Sánchez. The celebrities aren't entirely to blame. They were following the dress code stipulated by the organizers, "The Garden of Time." The best dressed of the night wisely avoided too literal an interpretation. Balenciaga's guests, including Nicole Kidman, Michelle Yeoh, and Isabelle Huppert, stood out for their simplicity in a field of corny hydrangeas.

They were also, it should be noted, the most in sync with the exhibit the Met Ball ostensibly celebrates, "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion," which opens to the public on Friday. That title suggests an interest in upcycling and sustainability that's in reality surface level, with only a handful of pieces on display making the case for the potential of deadstock and repurposed materials to make clothes that are both audacious and responsible. The majority of the 220 garments and accessories here are "case studies united by the theme of nature," organized into galleries with banal titles like "Painted Flowers" and "Blurred Blossoms." I am sorry to report there's one room called "Marine Life," described in the title card as a series of "sartorial seascapes connected by the poetics of science." It's schmattes inspired by sea creatures.

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Nicole Kidman in Balenciaga, with husband Keith Urban, at the 2024 Met Gala. Sean Zanni - Getty Images

At its best, curator Andrew Bolton unearths incredible treasures from the Costume Institute's permanent collection—an evening coat circa 1900 adorned by Jean-Philippe Worth with Tudor-style black velvet roses, a 1937 dress in the lightest chiffon covered in printed and appliquéd poppies by the Spanish designer Ana de Pombo for the House of Paquin, ethereal midcentury Dior studded with embroidered René Le Bègue daisies. At its worst, "Sleeping Beauties" ushers the Met into its immersive Van Gogh era. For anyone who cared to step inside the Dutchman's "Irises" when those projection shows were all the rage now you can also pose for selfies besides an Yves Saint Laurent jacket inspired by the same painting. Scents are piped into some galleries, soundscapes are created for others. Artificial intelligence is name-checked in the exhibition notes. It's all very Museum of Ice Cream. (Some news outlets report the show was the safer alternative to a planned retrospective of the work of John Galliano, which cooler heads at the Met blocked.)

Balenciaga turns up a number of times in the current program, but nowhere as deliciously as in a 1967 acid yellow silk gazar dress, a "Gift of Mrs. Claus von Bülow." Now this was a moment to savor, a garment that far exceeded the intentions of its maker by virtue of its infamous provenance, a singular relic that brings together fashion and culture and scandal. Not incidentally, this is where the house's current creative director Demna Gvasalia excels. Provocation is his sweet spot, sometimes to his parent company's dismay. The surprise of his looks on Monday night was their lack of irony. Kidman, Yeoh and Huppert were showstoppers in restrained, elegant gowns that eschewed schmaltzy decoration without skimping on the wow factor. These were mature women of substance, who dress like they have a mind of their own, not strict followers of their stylists' advice or the latest TikTok aesthetic. Kidman and Yeoh channeled archival Balenciaga designs, re-animated by Gvasalia using contemporary techniques and materials.

Huppert, meanwhile, brought to life the extraordinary bridal ensemble that closes "Sleeping Beauties," a 1930 wedding dress originally worn by New York socialite Natalie Potter and designed by the early 20th century French house Callot Soeurs. Installed on a raised landing, the gown looks down on exiting passersby, haughtily demanding they stop to take in its rippling cathedral-length train. That's precisely how Huppert posed on the steps of the Met, and she made an impression. In her red lip and Veronica Lake peek-a-boo curls, her jewel-tone train dramatically cascading over the carpet, she was a femme fatale in champagne silk satin amid so many wallflowers.

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Isabelle Huppert in Balenciaga at the 2024 Met Gala. Taylor Hill - Getty Images

Gvasalia wasn't just exhuming a look from the past but reinterpreting it with new technology and artisanal knowhow. The Parisian workshop Atelier Anne Gelgard achieved the gown's liquid sheen by spraying it with water and then sanding it down with a technique that's apparently most often used in high jewelry. The reverse side of the fabric was lightly blowtorched for a discoloration effect and a worn-in quality that was imperceptible to all except, one imagines, the appreciative wearer. Huppert certainly seemed comfortable in her own skin, as if she had slipped into a dress she had worn many times before and still felt brand new.

The best fashion can have that effect. It's intended for repeat and future use, cared for to last beyond the life of its first owner and passed down from one generation to the next. Couturiers know that. As Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri—who dressed Elizabeth Debicki and Rosalia on Monday night in refreshingly understated looks—once put it to T&C, haute couture is “clothing that isn’t content to shine only under the chandeliers of a gala or party, but that proudly displays its personality in the light of day.”

Another designer who knows that is the young American Conner Ives, whose practice revolves around discarded materials and clothes. He has one of the standout moments early in "Sleeping Beauties," a disco ball of a gown from his 2020 Central Saint Martins graduate collection dubbed "Couture Girl."

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Ivy Getty with Conner Ives wearing a demi-couture gown of his design at the 2024 Met Gala. Theo Wargo/GA - Getty Images

Ives took deadstock silk organza donated by Caroline Herrera creative Director Wes Gordon—who made Shakira's red hot Met Gala debut dress on Monday—and hand-embroidered it with 10,000 paillettes produced by the Sustainable Sequin Company, a British outfit focused on the production of biodegradable embellishments for commercial use. Heard of it? More people should. The result is such a stunner that "Couture Girl"is no stranger to the Met Gala, making its own debut in 2021 on Natalia Bryant. It is now in the Met's permanent collection, acquired in 2022 by the Friends of the Costume Institute.

In Ives's hands, nothing seems to go to waste and he was back at the Met Gala on Monday, fashioning a delicate, evocative demi-couture dress for another T&C cover girl, Ivy Getty, out of an improbable source material. By staging an intervention on two frayed Qing dynasty wall tapestries, estimated to be some 300 years old, Ives restored dignity to something with its own built-in history that others might have dismissed as junk. In the process, he managed to do what exceeded this show's grasp: he reawakened fashion, and it was a beautiful thing to see.

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