On Twitter, a Met Gala Tribute Where Fashion History and Creativity Are the Stars

For most of the world, the Met gala is known for its red carpet. Fashion’s most influential designers and models pair up with actors, musicians, authors, and artists, turning the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s staircase into a tableau vivant of haute fashion and creativity. But for all its glitz, this annual red carpet is underscored by something crucial to the fabric of fashion history: The Costume Institute’s spring exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institure. The show acts as a mirror to our culture, connecting fashion to politics, religion, society, and fine art. This year’s exhibit, “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” was set to mark 150 years in the museum’s life, showcasing its expansive acquisitions with the goal of highlighting fashion’s relationship to both time and timelessness. It’s somewhat ironic, of course, that an exhibit about time would be postponed.

Online, though, the show will go on. A group of 11 young women are planning to mark the exhibition’s would-be opening with a virtual gala. Called the HF Twitter Met Gala, the digital event will celebrate the exhibition on Monday, May 4—even if the show itself has been rescheduled to October.

The name of the project comes from HF Twitter, a community of fashion obsessives that use the social media platform as a forum for discourse on fashion, design, and industry ethics. Unlike Instagram, where images are everything and influencers and celebrities thrive, Twitter’s HF community is made up of—to borrow parlance from the platform—“real heads only.” Using mostly text (though mood boards and threads of runway-show images do play a crucial role in communication), members of the HF community can tell you the exact season of an Alexander McQueen shoe, the model who wore it, and the meaning of the collection, to boot. The stars of this world are not Insta-girls, its clout is not tied to buzzy sneaker collabs or logo hoodies; instead, threads discuss and debate the messages of Martin Margiela’s ’90s work and celebrate the fantastical storytelling of the couturier Guo Pei.

A look from Thom Browne’s fall 2018 show is inspiring Aria Olson’s HFTMG look
A look from Thom Browne’s fall 2018 show is inspiring Aria Olson’s HFTMG look
Photographed by Corey Tenold

Aria Olson is a 19-year-old HF Twitter member with the handle @pughatory and about 6,800 followers. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and will be beginning a master’s program in the fall, but before that, she has a lot of planning to do. From her home in Kansas City, Missouri, Olson is masterminding the HF Twitter Met Gala. “I discovered fashion during what is to date one of the darkest periods of my life,” she writes in her official bio on the HF Met Gala site. “The beauty, joy, and pure creativity expressed through the art of fashion came as a much needed breath of fresh air.” In November of 2019, she floated the idea of an HF Twitter Met Gala online. Since then it has become one of the world’s most buzzed-about digital events, covered in the New York Times and in many international editions of Vogue. Oscar de la Renta has been announced as a partner, and over 800 people have officially signed up to take part—though the total number could reach into the thousands.

“This is just a snapshot of all the amazing people on Twitter,” she says over a Zoom call. “This [gala] was inspired by and for the community. I think that High Fashion Twitter doesn’t tend to get enough hype—people don’t really hear about it because it’s a completely different base than Instagram, which is really visual and fashion is a very visual field. Twitter is really overlooked. But we’re just a snapshot of the amazing people that are on there.”

Ignored no more, this subset of fashion obsessives has caught the attention of the industry. “I initially heard about this from Andrew [Bolton], and I thought it was important for people to recognize the day,” says Thom Browne, who is outfitting one of the organizers for the HFTMG. “It is a very important day for the inauguration of Andrew’s show, which represents a long year’s worth of amazing scholarship in the world of fashion…his shows have truly elevated fashion to the level of art.”

Louis Vuitton, the sponsor of this year’s exhibit, is included in the “Brand Challenge” for the HF Twitter Met Gala
Louis Vuitton, the sponsor of this year’s exhibit, is included in the “Brand Challenge” for the HF Twitter Met Gala
Photo: GoRunway.com

Olson isn’t doing it alone. After soliciting help on Twitter, she chose 10 other women to make up the HFTMG’s core team. They range in age from 15 to 22 and live in seven different countries: Alejandra Beltrán, 21, is from Bogotá, Colombia; Chloe Kennedy, 19, is from Houston, Texas; Jana Dragićević, 15, hails from Belgrade, Serbia; Margaux Merz, 19, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan; Perla Montan, 19, is from Massachusetts and currently studying in Paris; Raebele, 18, is from the Philippines; Rebeca Spitz, 20, is from Washington, D.C.; Samantha Haran, 21, is from Queensland, Australia; Senam Attipoe, 20, is from Elkridge, Maryland; and Sofía Abadi, 21, is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their interests are as diverse as they are—Haran is a law student, Dragićević is a high school gymnast, others are studying fashion journalism, industrial engineering, graphic design, and printmaking. They have never met IRL.

Instead, they convene on Zoom or in WhatsApp chats—they have five going strong—at all hours of the day and night to plan their event. The organizers have divided participation into four categories. The “Wardrobe Challenge” asks participants to go into their closets and style their own “About Time”–inspired look. “Illustration Expression” brings creativity to two dimensions with original artworks of new or extant garments. The “Photoset Creation” challenge asks for mood boards that relate to the theme, while “Open Creativity” allows participants to express themselves however they choose. One that’s gotten a lot of attention is the “Brand Challenge,” where the organizers randomly assign a brand to participants, who must create a thematic mood board using only that label’s works.

“If you go on Twitter, many people are making threads about information they’ve found about the brand we’ve assigned them,” Beltrán says. “It’s expanding their knowledge, and that’s the main goal.” The group goes on to explain that they hope to use the “Brand Challenge” to highlight designers who don’t get a lot of cred on HF Twitter, as well as to spotlight designers of color. HF Twitter mainstays, like Alexander McQueen, are not included. Instead, you might be assigned LaQuan Smith or Noir Kei Ninomiya.

In addition to the challenges, the HFTMG team has used their account as a platform to discuss fashion history and advocate for environmental and sustainable change in the industry. Long threads discuss the history of the gala and the academic inspirations behind this year’s show, encouraging followers to engage with the lesser-celebrated aspects of one of fashion’s flashiest events. Think of it as Fashion History 101.

Since their gala has been gaining media attention, the women have noticed an uptick in HF Twitter accounts. “It’s overwhelming but it’s so exciting. I don’t think we thought this would happen to our community—no one knows about us!” Abadi, a graphic designer who produced all the branding for the project, says.

The fact that people are at home, with little else to plan for or look forward to, has only amplified the importance and excitement around the HF Twitter Met Gala. “I think this serves as a great form of escapism during all of this,” Kennedy says. “People are able to focus on something that’s not the pandemic, which I think is very important for mental health and a general sense of joy.”

“Having something else that people can look forward to, this other thing that’s on our timeline, I think is a really great distraction,” Attipoe adds. “But we’re not ignoring the pandemic. We’re aware of its effects and that’s why we’re planning a fundraiser.” Anyone who donates $5 to the International Medical Corps and sends a screenshot to the HFTMG organizers will receive an e-book of highlights from the event.

Starting at midnight on Monday, May 4, the team will be RTing and responding to their thousands of participants. “We’re 24/7 working on this,” Abadi says. “I just can’t believe that I’m in a group of 15- to 22-years-olds from every point on the planet and we’re doing all this. It’s amazing. I’m honestly so proud.”

Fashion obsessives the world over will agree that the groundswell of support and emotion around the Twitter-specific event is exactly the mood-lifter this moment—and this industry—needs right now. “I think it just goes to show how many people are really, truly interested in fashion and want to get into the fashion industry, which is kind of the whole reason I signed up for the event,” Spitz says. “I’m so excited to see everyone’s creativity that we haven’t had a chance to see yet.”

Originally Appeared on Vogue