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The Met Gala honored a fashion rebel with a display of outdated red carpet tropes

Priyanka Chopra attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/John Carucci)
AP Photo/John Carucci
Been there done that.
By Marc Bain
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The theme of this season’s highly anticipated costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the work of Rei Kawakubo, whose label Comme des Garçons has for decades gleefully blurred boundaries between art and fashion. Its focus is on how Kawakubo has challenged nearly every common assumption about what clothes are, and how they should make us look.

But it seems like nobody explained that to the attendees at the glitzy Met Gala. Guests at fashion’s biggest annual party traditionally dress to represent the theme of the exhibit, but those taking a spin on the red carpet last night were done up in the usual attire, reaffirming all those standard notions of fashion and beauty that Kawakubo—the honoree of the evening—has spent years questioning. With only a few exceptions, the night missed the punk spirit of Comme des Garçons.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
From left: Sistine Rose Stallone, Joan Smalls, and Behati Prinsloo at the Met Gala, though they could have been on any red carpet.

There were the long, dramatic trains. There were pretty, form-fitting dresses aplenty. There was the now practically obligatory naked dress, this time on model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner—and on her sister Kylie, and on friend and fellow model Bella Hadid.

All these looks weren’t bad, but they had nothing to do with Comme des Garçons. ”[She] completely upended every ideal of the fashionable body: the idea of a slim waist; the idea of a pert bottom; the idea of high, pert breasts,” Andrew Bolton, curator of the Met exhibit, explained in an interview at a press preview earlier in the day. “She just challenged us to think about the body in different ways, and showed that fashion itself has no bounds.”

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
The bum squad: Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Bella Hadid.

There is little of the avant-garde on red carpets generally. In fact, red-carpet dressing is so standardized that a woman in a suit rather than a dress becomes noteworthy.

Reuters/Carlo Allegri
Rihanna rocks it.

The Met Gala did have a few on-theme standouts. Rihanna wore an elaborate floral creation from Comme des Garçons’ fall 2016 collection, and stole the night in many people’s minds. Caroline Kennedy, the former US ambassador to Japan, where Kawakubo is from and still based, nailed a daring look from the same collection, while Tracee Ellis Ross chose an amazing piece made of folds of blue fabric from spring 2016.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Tracee Ellis Ross going all out in Comme des Garçons.

Guests didn’t have to wear Comme des Garçons to match the spirit of the brand either. Ruth Negga was stunning in a columnar, draped ivory piece by Louis Vuitton. Journalist Amy Fine Collins wore a Thom Browne tuxedo-dress hybrid that recalled Comme des Garçons’ own experiments in blending stereotypically male and female elements into one garment. Katy Perry went weird in custom Margiela, and Dakota Johnson in black floral Gucci offered a subtle nod to Comme des Garçons’ love of the color. (She attended with Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who wore a Comme des Garçons skirt and trousers.)

Diego Corredor/MediaPunch/IPX
Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper all dressed up for the Met Gala.

“It takes a certain amount of bravery to wear her clothes,” Bolton also said of Kawakubo that day. He added that clients are “usually strong women who use fashion as a way to express rather complex ideas about identity and sexuality.”

What was missing at the Gala was that complexity. The Met itself can hardly be blamed. The evening is an important fundraiser, and it just sets the tone. The letdown was on the part of those who had the perfect opportunity to have fun and challenge convention, but chose instead to stick to it.

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