By Steve Dool.
Getting ready for the annual Met Gala (officially called the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala) is a lot like ordering difficult-to-pronounce items at a fancy French restaurant. Do it correctly, and you're sure to impress. Fumble it, and you look like an idiot rube. For the men on this year's A-list-only invite list, the temptation might be greater than ever to simply eschew the theme and roll up in a tux—the equivalent of ordering the steak, well-done—rather than make a pass at a more challenging (and less conventional outfit).
But this year, more than any other in the last decade, is the year guys should take a big sartorial leap before hitting the red carpet. That's because this year's Met Gala is dedicated to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, the legendary Japanese designer behind some of the most boundary-pushing, genre-defying fashion of our time. (Her work is the subject of the night's corresponding exhibit at the museum, called "The Art of In-Between.") And if there's one man we can count on not to play it safe is style god and co-chair of this year's gala, Pharrell Williams. Like Kawakubo, Williams has made a career of never playing it safe.
Williams’ role at the Gala probably had a lot to do with his position as an avowed Kawakubo disciple—he’s worn CdG onstage, in the pages of GQ, and in the video for “Happy.” He released a collaborative fragrance with the brand back in 2014 and sells Comme des Garçons PLAY clothing in his Billionaire Boys Club boutique in Soho, too. Likewise, Dover Street Market, the Comme-owned chain of retail shops, sells the sneakers Williams designed with Adidas. All of that alone makes Williams a more natural fit for the Gala than at least one of this year’s other co-chairs, Tom Brady, perhaps the only occupant at the center of the Venn diagram where Tom Ford suits and an Uggs campaign overlap, God bless him.
Throw in Williams’ long held a fascination with Tokyo’s fashion scene—partnerships with Nigo, visits to United Arrows—and his obsession with science-fiction—Kawakubo’s work is nothing if not otherworldy—and Pharrell’s hosting gig seems almost inevitable.
But the duo’s like-mindedness transcends business and aesthetics; it’s a philosophical connection, and maybe also a spiritual one. Consciously or not, Williams and Kawakubo are both testaments to the ultimate rewards of unapologetically, almost stubbornly, refusing to conform. Unlike Williams’ other co-chair, Katy Perry, who is in the midst of attempting to shift her public persona by cutting her hair, dressing “androgynously and architechturally,” and telling everyone about it, Williams is more likely to simply show up in a women’s Chanel tweed with a crown of bleached blonde and leave speculation about what it all means (if it means anything) to others. Kawakubo might send a model dressed as an armless Frosty the Snowman down the runway. And what, you may ask, is the significance of that? You’re on your own there, pal. She’s not talking.
The common thread may be that actual mavericks don’t have to tell you how maverick-y they are. Or that if you stay your authentically weird self, the Oscar nominations, chart-topping hits, and museum retrospectives will follow—and will cement your legacy. Alexander McQueen was quoted saying that “every designer you ask will be influenced by Rei in one way or another.” Just Blaze called Williams the best producer ever, and Kanye has said he’s his style idol.
But, in the moment, their refusal to conform is also just more fun and perfectly primed to infuse some surprise into an event like the Met Gala. It would be foolish to guess what Williams will wear, or what next season’s post-retrospective Comme des Garçons collection will look like. All we do know is that whatever is up next will be a satisfying order.
This story originally appeared on GQ.
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