The Met Gala, Explained

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I adore everything about the event that storms social media and Vogue alike each year. 

 To many, the Met Gala is just a lavish party--with celebrities, a theme, and outrageous clothes; the Oscars of outfits. But, it is more than that. It not only raises money for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in New York), but it serves as the opening party to the Institute's annual fashion exhibition. The exhibition and the Gala are intertwined in a package of spectacle and celebrity, art and film, and high fashion. It combines the worlds of high and low culture: poppy, tabloid culture with fine arts and clothes-making, almost purposely with each invited designer choosing a celebrity muse. Right now, Kim Kardashian and Karl Lagerfield gracing the same carpet is nothing new, but decades ago the two spheres were completely polar. 

 The Costume Institute shows just that: a presentation observing the merging of many different cultures into something mass consumed; fashion. From Alexander McQueen's crude, shocking take on avant-garde to the influence of China on western designers, each exhibition is a little piece of niche history. What I like is that everything is portrayed very candidly, offering no bias but instead leaving the interpretation to the watcher. To me, McQueen's work was iconic in capturing the blurred lines between excessive and spectacular, between beautiful and grotesque. To me, western designers have skewed interpretations of China based on old Hollywood stereotypes of dragons and martial arts.

 The exhibitions do an excellent job at producing conversation on the development of culture within and out of our circle of thought. What does it mean for a reality star to wear Chanel? What does it mean for Valentino to present a "tribal" collection with white models? What does the spectacle of celebrity mean for our society-- does it incline us to stray from real world politics and more meaningful mediums of art? The Met Gala may be getting the most attention because of the popping headlines of stars and brands, but the whole point of the Costume Institute's party is to encourage you to look closer at our funny human tendency to mass consume pop culture. They do not offer advice on how you choose to see it, but just gives you the means to do so. To you, is it ridiculous and frivolous? Is it just harmless fun? So many questions about spectacle, merging cultures, and high v. low culture are pondered through the program as a whole, and it's so coolIt's a cool way to present different spheres of production to the general public. I think the Institute has been doing a great job at reaching out through the Met Gala to the public, but I think it's our jobs to check out the gala for it's exhibition and favorite celebrity, not just the latter. 

 On a more critical note, though the Institute already embraces pop culture other institutions scoff at, I think it should reach deeper, as it asks us to do, into more ignored low culture. For example, the influence of black culture on high fashion and pop culture alike is ingrained from the first mixture of slaves' African traditions in Christianity, to jazz and the Harlem Renaissance, to disco, to hip hop. I also think today's neo- cultural fashion is interesting-- haven't you noticed that African dashikis, Chinese qipaos, and Mexican embroidery (in a very Americanized way) have been trending both as a way to display one's heritage, and to borrow from others? Or how politics have played into fashion: power suits from the 80s (when women entered the workforce on a mass level), utilitarian WWII gear, and more. Or, how fashion brands like Gucci and Balenciaga have trickled down into our everyday lives through music and social media. There's so much to explore, and so many problems to talk about (cough...appropriation, gentrification). Personally, I would love to curate such exhibitions. To me, the Met Gala/ Costume Institute exhibition is one of the most culturally relevant events going on today. No other thing has been so successful at exploring how the streets of South Central Los Angeles end up on a Paris fashion runway, or how the films of our grandparents' time is seen on the clothes of our favorite stars. 

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