I think I may be in a fairy tale. Am I donning Cinderella’s glass slipper and attending the ball–the Met Gala? Flashbulbs popping, metallics flashing, crowds screaming…“Hey Move It!”
This year I was in New York during the Met Gala, and I just had to experience this storied, spring soiree. I’ve long imagined what it must be like to be a part of the drama as celebrities make their entrance. It was well worth the exercise in stamina; not from wearing sky-high-Lady-Gaga heels to the ball, but from trying to catch a glimpse of the somebodies.
Every year on the first Monday in May, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds its biggest fundraiser–the Met Ball. This year, 600 of the most fashionable, influential people floated up the grand staircase in Manus x Machina-themed couture. Leading designers are paired with their muses to create artistic, red carpet complements to the year’s exhibit. Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, reigns over every minute detail of the event. Who else has the power with these celebs to decree no selfies allowed? This is the prom of one of the most creative and culture-moving industries.
The crisp air was electric. As I turned the corner from 80th onto Fifth Avenue, I began to hear the cheers of the crowd. A few more steps and the scene opened up. All the media lighting made the vanishing daytime brighter. I began to make my way through small mobs, contained between temporary barriers across the street from the Met. After a few attempts to find a small aperture in the crowd to peek through, I found a spot.
There was a thin space to precariously stand on the curb, while being jabbed over and over by young women behind me. They were fun and cute and kept apologizing with each intrusion. Sitting perilously on barriers, they complained how sore their butts were from balancing. I could feel my feet and ankles throbbing from tip-toeing to see a swath of sparkle. We were all suffering for fashion together. It was impossible to see much of anything—for proof, look at my bad photos included here. The best view was often through someone’s smart phone as they held it high like a periscope.
One of her girls ranted that she couldn’t believe he was doing this to her—Justin, that is.
As favorites exited their machina carriages (cars) the crowd would erupt and scream their names, trying to catch their attention. The guy in front of me was there for rappers and sports stars. He yelled out “Derek, Derek Jeter!” then the same with Tyga. To my right, a sweet mom brought her teenage girls for Justin Beiber. She was so petite that she had no hope of even catching a glimpse of a star’s back or hand like I did! In servitude as part chaperone, part balancing post–I’m nominating her for Mom of the Year. One of her girls ranted that she couldn’t believe he was doing this to her—Justin, that is. He was late! It was mainly younger people out for the spectacle of fashion drama, just like at New York Fashion Week. This was evidenced when a rogue woman from my splinter group recognized Bette Midler, and my girlfriends sitting behind me asked, “Who’s that?”
I was there for the dresses, and the stories that the best of them tell. As I’d hear someone say, “There’s…” I’d quickly scan the pinpoints between heads to try to see. I never saw much. I could sort of make out balanced river rock sculptures-as-hair atop Lupita Nyongo’s head, only because her gorgeous metallic mint green gown flashed by. A hand waved in front of blonde hair, which turned out to be Claire Danes. Only in looking later at my fuzzy I-Phone photos (taken by randomly clicking in the air) did I realize I had also “seen” Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Donatella Versace, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, and Kate Hudson. I didn’t really care that I saw so little, it was fun being around the energy of the fashion-loving crowd.
Watching my recorded E! Live from the Red Carpet this morning, I finally saw all that everyone had been cheering about last night. The gowns were divine, the women were lit from within. The theme of the exhibit, Manus x Machina, explores the coexistence or singularity of handmade, and machine-made fashion. A few masterpieces evolved as designers used new materials, technological advances, digital science, or mechanical wizardry to embellish on the exhibition idea. Claire Danes wore a fondant-colored, Cinderella gown designed by Zac Posen. Made entirely of fiber-optic woven organza, in low light it was completely illuminated. Tory Burch created a mod, Grecian white gown for Frida Pinto, with charged Swarovski crystal panels placed in a geometric pattern. The rectangles of crystals cycled through colors, from white to deep blue.
But the most innovative and meaningful collaboration between human and machine was Marchesa’s. The Cognitive Dress, worn by Karolina Kurkova, was designed to display the changing human emotion of Met Gala fans, as recorded on Twitter. The dress tracked mass Twitter responses that exhibited joy, excitement, curiosity, patience, and encouragement. A program designed on an IBM computer named Watson, directed the LED flowers on the gown to change colors, as consensus built on Twitter for each new wave of emotion.
A photo posted by Karolina Kurkova (@karolinakurkova) on
More orthodox translations of hand and machine-made also caught the eye of my Plumage 59 sensibility. Plumage, gorgeous plumage, was lavishly used by Vera Wang to wrap Rita Ora in silver, gray, and ice blue feathers. And Dolce & Gabbana’s impressive all-feather train fanned out like a peacock’s tail behind Zoe Saldana.
It was a ball glimpsing into this magical evening. The hand of art, matched with the innovation of machine. Anything but elementary my dear Watson.