Oscar Wilde said, of the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, that ‘you would have to have a heart of stone to read…without laughing.’ It was hard not to feel the same way today, as pictures of last night’s Met Gala were released to a curious international public.
The point of the event, where tickets sell for a suitably jaw-dropping $30,000, is nominally to raise money for selected good causes, and to mark the opening of the museum’s major costume exhibition. Yet every year, the invited celebrities become more absurd, and their outfits more demonstrative and performative. It’s less cutting-edge fashion than a desperate exercise in one-upmanship, as has-beens, never-beens and genuine stars jostle alongside each other, all seeking to attract the greatest attention on the red carpet.
Sartorial faux pas can be excused, on the grounds that few of the guests are seeking to keep a low profile. Credit must therefore go to the actor Adrien Brody, whose classic tuxedo ensemble stood out as remarkable because it was simply a well-tailored, well-cut suit, rather than a childish exercise in ostentation.
But if you wanted the latter, there was plenty on display. The perpetually sulky-looking Cara Delevingne wore an outfit saying ‘Peg The Patriarchy’, and commented that it was about ‘sticking it to the man’.
This is the same Cara Delevingne, I presume, whose father Charles is a multimillionaire property developer; whose great-grandfather Hamar Greenwood, Viscount Greenwood, sent the Black and Tans into Ireland; and whose maternal grandfather is English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens. That is an awful lot of patriarchy in one family, and an awful lot of sticking it to the man. I fear for Ms Delevingne’s stamina, but bottoms up.
And so it continues. Much of the absurdity of the Met Gala lies in the disparity between celebrity perceptions of themselves and banal reality. Witness, for instance, Kim Kardashian spending an eternity having make-up painstakingly applied, only to take to the red carpet with a fetish mask over her face.
Yet many others sought to turn the evening’s activities into a showcase for their politics. Sometimes, this was unobjectionable, if flamboyant. Rep. Carolyn Maloney nodded to the suffragettes with a gown that said ‘equal rights for women’, a commendable choice, just as it was hard to argue with Schitt’s Creek creator Daniel Levy’s extravagant outfit in praise of queer relationships.
But the prize for shooting and missing must go to everyone’s favorite high-profile New York politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC, as her aficionados dub her, is not shy about courting publicity at the best of times, so it must have seemed like a natural juncture to wear a gown designed by Aurora James emblazoned with the slogan ‘Tax the Rich’ upon it in huge red letters. It was eye-catching, and Ocasio-Cortez proudly announced that her intention was to ‘kick open the doors’ at the Met.
Less impressed commentators wondered whether the best way of doing this was really to attend the most exclusive event on the New York calendar, where tickets sell for the cost of an annual wage for many of Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s constituents and where the majority of her fellow guests were, indeed, the super-wealthy that she is so in favor of taxing. You can imagine there was some awkward bathroom conversation to be had, after the initial ‘I love your dress’ flattery had been exchanged.
The Met Gala remains an ephemeral and rather silly event. The money raised for good causes is welcome, and Anna Wintour remains a social force to be reckoned with. But its smug self-satisfaction is grating, and its constant detours into wokery are plain tedious. I just regret that nobody turned up in a ‘Bring Back Trump’ T-shirt. Now that would have been real courage.