A departure from the youthquake: red carpet reboot at the Met Gala

A masked Kim Kardashian walking the red carpet in a black Balenciaga bodysuit for last year’s Met Gala was the straw that almost broke the back of the spectacle commonly referred to as fashion’s Oscars, which returns this Monday night in New York.

Last year the annual celebration of creativity, celebrity and Hollywood tape, returned after a COVID-imposed absence that saw 2020’s Gala cancelled, but it was clear from Kardashian’s ensemble and a mismatch of outfits worn by supermodels Kylie Jenner and Cara Delevingne, singers Jennifer Lopez and Saweetie and actors Carey Mulligan and Cynthia Erivo, that the A-list had forgotten how to “fashion”.

Kim Kardashian wearing Balenciaga on the red carpet for the 2021 Met Gala in New York. This year’s dress code ‘Gilded Glamour’ draws inspiration from the Netflix series ‘The Gilded Age’, starring Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski.Credit:Getty, Netflix

Every year the fundraiser for the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has been managed by US Vogue Editor Anna Wintour since 1995, provides a theme for guests and last year’s dress code of American Independence was mostly ignored.

Kardashian’s all-black look drew comparisons to a burqa from Muslim author Hafsa Lodi. Jenner quizzically wore a My Fair Lady-inspired beaded gown from Givenchy, Saweetie committed to body-baring in Christian Cowan and Mulligan stuck with feeling pretty in pink Valentino.

Stylists had also struggled to interpret the theme of Camp in 2019, when Katy Perry dressed as a chandelier and Jared Leto carried a model of his head. Understandably, for this year’s event on Monday evening in New York, Wintour has tightened the Hermes reins with the very specific instructions of Gilded Glamour and White Tie.

Last year’s swings and misses at the 2021 Met Gala, which was postponed from its usual May date to September. Kendall Jenner in Givenchy, Carey Mulligan in Valentino and Saweetie in Christian Cowan.Credit:AP

White tie refers to the Victorian-era dress code requiring men to wear tails with a winged collar shirt and white bow tie and waistcoat, which has been superseded by black tie at most formal events. For white tie events women are required to wear floor-length gowns, no doubt causing consternation for guests such as Spencer’s Kristen Stewart, who has a preference for Chanel mini-skirts and hotpants on the red carpet.

Gilded glamour takes this year’s formality further, referring to an era of prosperity in the US captured in the Netflix series The Gilded Age, spanning 1870 to 1900, which borrowed its name from an 1873 satire of greed and corruption by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner.

In 2018 Paolo Sebastian designer Paul Vasileff from South Australia dressed Entertainment Tonight presenter Keltie Knight for the Heavenly Bodies-themed event in a gown embroidered with quotes from the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty.

If Vasileff were in this year’s designer line-up, which is dominated by luxury giants such as Valentino, Versace, Balmain, Gucci and Saint Laurent, he would be following Wintour’s lead and sticking to the theme like velcro.

“I would immediately refer to late 1800s fashions,” Vasileff says. “This was a period of lavish and opulent dressing. It’s also worth noting that Vogue published its first issue in 1892.”

“It’s a real opportunity to play with some beautiful romantic colours paired against glistening beadwork and embroideries. Corsetry, bustles, lace, ruffles and collars are all things I would explore.”

Australian ambassadors: Television presenters Keltie Knight, in Paolo Sebastian, and Zuri Hall, in Steven Khalil at the 2018 Met Gala.Credit:Getty, Instagram

Sydney designer Steven Kahlil, a favourite of Kylie Jenner and Princess Olympia of Greece, dressed E! News host Zuri Hall for the 2018 Met Gala. Kahlil is also hoping for a return to celebrities sticking to the theme’s parameters.

“People just seemed to be doing their own thing last year,” Kahlil said. “This time I’m hoping to see things over the top. I suspect that we will be seeing a lot of gold. We are ready for opulence.”

Both Vasileff and Kahlil said that exposure from the Met Gala is worth the exhausting lead-up and risks of landing on the wrong side of Best Dressed lists.

“Obviously creating couture out of Australia is not an easy feat, so to see our work showcased on a world stage like that is a great achievement,” Vasileff says.

Miranda Kerr in her favourite Met Gala look from 2017, where she skirted the avant-garde dress code in a strapless Oscar de la Renta gown.Credit:Getty Images

Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr is a veteran of the 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017 Met Galas and only started working on her concept for this year’s event recently.

“I actually sketched my outfit inspiration for this year’s Met while I was back in Australia a couple of weeks ago,” Kerr says. “I start conceptualising my look a few weeks before and then work back with a designer to bring it to life.”

Like Mulligan and Saweetie, Kerr has been reluctant to lean too heavily into the Gala’s theme in past years.

Out with the new and in with the old. Met Gala chair Anna Wintour has appointed a more senior guiding panel for this year’s event, following last year’s youthquake, dominated by Billie Eilish, 20, in Oscar de la Renta. This year Ryan Reynolds, 45, and wife Blake Lively, 34, are co-chairs. They attended the Gala together in 2017.Credit:AP, Getty

“I try to keep my looks leaning in a more classic direction, regardless of the theme,” she says. “My favourite Met look was from 2017 when I wore an Oscar de la Renta strapless gown.”

As well as a more rigid dress code, this year’s guiding panel suggests a shift away from the youth focus of last year’s Met Gala, which featured actor Timothée Chalamet, 26, singer Billie Eilish, 20, tennis star Naomi Osaka, 24, and poet Amanda Gorman, 24. The youthful squad worked with designer Tom Ford, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri and Anna Wintour.

The young line-up trickled down to the guest list, which drifted away from the usual line-up of models, designers, actors and performers to TikTok and social media stars such as Addison Rae, Dixie D’Amelio, Emma Chamberlain, Nikkie de Jager and Madison Beer, who all ignored the theme.

This year Wintour has appointed Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, 42, Watchmen actor Regina King, 51 and red carpet stalwarts Ryan Reynolds, 45 and his wife Blake Lively, 34 to the senior roles.

With red carpet regular Rihanna pregnant and Euphoria actor Zendaya having RSVP’d “no”, organisers are hoping for Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift, Lizzo and Justin and Hailey Bieber to attend. If Wintour is worried she can take comfort in the example set by Gwyneth Paltrow.

In 2013 Paltrow told USA Today that the event “sucked”. “It was so un-fun. It was boiling,” she said. “I did not enjoy it at all,” adding “I’m never going again.”

Paltrow was back in 2017 and 2019 and could be there on Monday.

“You are literally transported into a world of fashion and art through the outfits, exhibitions and performances,” Kerr says. “It’s a spectacular and really fun evening.”

National fashion editor Damien Woolnough will bring you live updates from the Met Gala red carpet on Tuesday May 3 from 8am AEST.

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