At the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2017 Costume Institute gala, there were plenty of celebrities, and a lot of glittering dresses: there was Kylie Jenner, wearing a blush-tone figure-hugging Versace gown with fringe; Gisele Bündchen showing off her toned back in a slinky silver number from Stella McCartney; Selena Gomez in a custom white frock from Coach. They all looked stunning - but the dress code for the evening was "avant-garde." And in that case, they failed.
As the starry crowd began making their way up the museum’s stairs and into the Temple of Dendur to celebrate the new exhibit ‘Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the Inbetween,’ it seemed obvious that many guests weren't going to play it safe--just look at Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, who interpreted ‘avant-garde’ as ‘naked with sparkles,’ just as Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé did in years prior?
Apparently, the answer came in the form of the actresses, models, and guests who actually chose to wear archival pieces by Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo. Gala co-host Caroline Kennedy, a 59-year-old former author, attorney and diplomat, among other things, wore a sculptural floral frock, proving that anyone at any age can embrace a thought-provoking piece of fashion. Kennedy, for her part, has been a fan of the designer since she was the United States Ambassador to Japan. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross worked with her stylist Karla Welch and chose a deep blue jacquard look by the brand, and Stella Tennant looked confident and natural wearing a voluminous dress from the designer. All three pulled of looks that were challenging with aplomb. Sofia Sanchez de Betak also wore Comme Des Garçons, but she never thought of it as a risk. “I knew I wanted to wear CDG since the moment I heard the theme of the exhibition, Rei is one of my favorite designers in the world,” she said. “I find her clothes to be fascinating even throughout decades, regardless the season or trends. I was thinking of doing a very simple beauty look as the dress was already quite bold, but when we got started with the makeup it was hard to stop, I got a sort of sugar rush and kept adding and adding!”
And then, luckily for all, Rihanna arrived, delivering a necessary fashion moment in the form of a sculptural gown that seemed to be made of cut-out hearts and a floral wallpaper. It was heaven. “Say It With Flowers,” her stylist, Mel Ottenberg, Instagrammed. “This night was to honor the incredible designs of Comme Des Garcons, so there was never any question of wearing any other designer,” Ottenberg said the next day. “It was important to me that Rihanna wore a look that was very strong and very Comme, and yet also very her. Rihanna is an incredible dresser and risk taker so I knew she would be game for a major moment, so I looked around for the perfect look. And this look from their Fall 2016 show was the one I knew was right. I love the incredible silhouette, color and depth. Feminizing the look with thigh high sandals and colored stones made it quintessential Rihanna.”
Perhaps a few stars found it a bit difficult to be inspired by Kawakubo’s work as so much of it deals with the exaggerated female form, and it questions what is fashion or anti-fashion – tropes that the Met exhibit explores fully. Thom Browne is another designer who offers a unique point of view on similar subjects and whose work leant itself well to the ‘avant-garde’ theme. The singer Solange, known for pushing boundaries and wearing brands that others are too timid to try, looked regal on the red carpet in a black puffer jacket with train paired with ice skate-inspired shoes, from the designer’s fall 2017 collection. “That look stood out to Solange and myself because it was strong and a bit defiant,” said the singer’s stylist, Peju Famojure said. “It was a proper nod to the Comme des Garçons legacy - the lumps and bumps collection, for instance, or the way Rei consistently reinvents and deconstructs suiting. Rei is also known for delivering messages through her work, redefining what feminine silhouettes are and what wearable fashion is. Thom Browne is a brilliant designer who also has a subversive take on what's wearable. It was the perfect choice.”
Another young star willing to take a risk on the red carpet was Lily Collins. She wore a strapless Giambattista Valli gown, it’s volume and colors a clear nod to Kawakubo’s work. Collins wore her hair in a severe short bob and with bangs, and matching dark lips and nails. As a guest of Tiffany & Co, “Lily’s look was the ultimate combo of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ meets Rei Kawakubo,” her stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn explained. While such a meeting of inspirations could possibly go awry, “Lily's classic old Hollywood Audrey Hepburn vibe allows us to play with these old Hollywood Glamour Silhouettes while her youth and rock and roll style always allows us to add an edge,” the duo explained. “In this case the hair inspired by Rei Kawakubo herself!”
It was refreshing to see a young actress get into the true spirit and character of the Met Gala’s theme, and one could only have wished that a few more who walked the red carpet got in the same spirit. They should have taken a page out of the fashion original Michelle Lamy’s sartorial book, at least just for one night. Arm in arm with partner Rick Owens, she caught the eye of everyone she passed (including, but not limited to, Migos) in an asymmetrical tiered red dress from the label, complete with witchy black boots. Now that is avant-garde.
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