How American Was This Year’s Met Gala Red Carpet?

·6 min read

The 2021 Met Gala is well behind us and has left behind fashion moments for people to reference for years to come.

Every year VIPs assemble at the Met to support the Costume Institute’s fashion exhibition and follow a theme that supports that exhibition. This year the theme was “American Independence,” which begs the question: How American was this year’s red carpet?

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Some guests did look to American labels, worked with American designers at non-American fashion houses or tapped non-American houses to interpret American fashion. While many were excited to see Zac Posen’s works, celebrities dress in Theophilio, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Tax the Rich dress by Brother Vellies, many were disappointed to see the Met Gala’s usual suspects of deep-pocketed, non-American labels: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Versace and Balenciaga.

A brief tally of just under 200 guests found that more guests wore non-American brands but, in a bit of good news, there was at least a bigger diversity of American brands on the red carpet. Ralph Lauren, Thom Brown, Zac Posen, Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford, Sergio Hudson, Christian Cowan, Erl and Vera Wang were among many labels worn by guests even as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Versace, Dundas, Moschino and Loewe dominated the red carpet.

Commentators agreed that they would’ve liked to see more American themes beyond denim and Old Hollywood and more American designer works and historical references. For instance, was this the venue for the return of the Zoot suit, which is regarded as one of the first true styles birthed in America? Or is keeping things strictly American very un-American?

“How was nobody in Marc Jacobs?” asked Antoine Gregory, Black Fashion Fair founder and Theophilio brand director. “The only Marc Jacobs piece I saw was on [Theophilio designer] Edvin Thompson’s feet. Marc Jacobs has been a designer for Perry Ellis and Louis Vuitton. There were just so many missed opportunities.”

Gregory said this year’s theme was “a lexicon of American fashion” and saw it as “an opportunity to highlight American designers.” He pointed to two people who nailed the theme: model Paloma Elsesser in channeling Old Hollywood glam in Zac Posen and singer Ciara in an American football-inspired ensemble by Dundas inspired by Geoffrey Beene, thus supporting the American designer, the American sports institution and her Super Bowl-winning husband Russell Wilson.

“When you think of the last two years in the pandemic and how businesses in the Garment District and the industry have suffered, this was a moment to support designers,” said Gregory.

He also praised Lewis Hamilton’s efforts at the gala. The Formula One driver made sure to bring guests this year and most importantly designers such as Jason Rembert of Aliette, Edvin Thompson of Theophilio and Kenneth Nicholson, who dressed Hamilton this year. Additional guests included singer Kehlani, runner Sha’Carri Richardson, and British fencer Miles Chamley-Watson.

“The last year or two has been about creating space and being diverse and inclusive, but specifically for Black designers,” Gregory said. “We didn’t see that on the red carpet. We’re going through a pandemic, let’s celebrate smaller designers.”

So what is everyone’s expectation from the guests? Commentators suggested supporting smaller designers, better interpreting the theme, and how designers, stylists and guests can be more intentional.

Examples of being intentional was chef and television host Sophia Roe, who wore a custom Halston dress inspired by Donna Summer and Diana Ross. Kaia Gerber wore Oscar de la Renta in a look inspired by Bianca Jagger. Alton Mason wore Theophilio inspired by music superstars Michael Jackson and Prince, among others.

TikTok star Addison Rae wearing a Gucci by Tom Ford dress from 2003, celebrating American design regardless of what house it’s for, and also looking to the annals of American fashion. The red carpet could have been a moment for vintage dresses by American designers, though one can expect ensembles from American fashion history from the exhibition.

Making a tally of this year’s red carpet is difficult given who led the design of these looks? For instance, Kid Cudi, Kendall Jenner or J Balvin wore looks from Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Moschino, respectively, that were designed by American designers Virgil Abloh, Matthew Williams and Jeremy Scott. A Dunhill look on Josh O’Connor this year was designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based designer Connor McKnight. There are politics involved as well in that some guests are under contract to the brands that are dressing them, and the brands often cover the charge for guests.

Stylist, author and creative director Kesha McLeod dressed NBA Champion P.J. Tucker in Gucci, rapper Cordae in Coach and tennis superstar Serena Williams in Gucci as well, but McLeod said they looked to Gucci’s archives, particularly Tom Ford’s era, for Williams’ look.

“This one was my favorite,” McLeod said. “It embodies power and a take on a superhero.”

McLeod had dressed Williams for the Met Gala in the past as well as Lala Anthony and former NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire. This year she said it was difficult to see how everyone followed the theme because “it was so many cultures in one house,” she explained.

“I wanted to see more denim, wanted to see Avirex and what we grew up in like the Jay Z Blueprint cover, goth, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, maybe see more Marilyn Monroe and Lena Horne,” she said. “But Kid Cudi [in Louis Vuitton], I went to school with kids like that in Queens, N.Y. That was the style. Rocky could’ve went as himself, because those kids put so many things on the map. It was just so many things that could’ve been a nod.”

While P.J. wore Gucci, McLeod tapped into ’70s R&B singing groups like The Stylistics. “Following the theme does matter and I would love if people stick to it,” McLeod said.

But Paper Magazine founder and cultural commentator David Hershkovits believes it would be un-American for guests to only wear American designers.

“They weren’t wearing American fashion, but so what?” said Hershkovits. “European designers are working for American brands and vice versa. There is probably still a difference, but I think this is something to see. There were two years of no fashion and now this is an opportunity to get dressed up and people are having fun with that.”

The host of the Light Culture podcast had followed fashion closely since the 1970s and 1980s when he said “fashion became part of the culture,” and has seen the evolution of the Gala as well as the evolution of American shopping, particularly the rate of adopting global fashion brands.

“In America, we come from a revolutionary society,” he said. “Fashion went global in the ’90s and many of these designers probably were not at the party, but are in the exhibition. The American fashion industry will not be affected one way or another, but the way America is made up of immigrants and diversity, that’s our hallmark. It’s open to everyone and that is purely America.”

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