Every first Monday in May, millions of eyes are fixated on the red carpet for the annual Met Gala, an alluring combination of fashion, art, and celebrity which has grown in popularity over the past few years. The yearly fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is a posh affair marking the grand opening of the Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, and this year’s show, Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, highlighted the tremendous body of work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo — a designer who has created impressive collections for more than 40 years and is known for her inventive and conceptual aesthetic.
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Each year, the question posed about the Met Gala is: Who will be the best and worst dressed? In 2017, women of color slayed. To slay at the Met Gala means creating a stir with your look and nailing the theme. Unlike the red carpets for other big events, like the Grammys or the Oscars, the purpose of the Met Gala is to select an ensemble that captures the exhibit’s theme or the honoree’s design aesthetic. Looking beautiful, glamorous, or sexy in a gown simply isn’t enough to “win the night.”
From Rihanna’s gorgeous dress, created by Kawakubo herself, to Priyanka Chopra’s daring Ralph Lauren gown, women of color took style risks that made powerful statements about fashion as art. Despite these “wins” of women of color, the importance of this moment needs to be understood in the context of ongoing discussions about the lack of visibility, inclusion, and celebration of women of color in high fashion. Runways and red carpets may be gradually diversifying, but high fashion is still primarily dominated by white women.
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After all, it was only a couple months ago that for the first time in the history of New York Fashion Week, every runway show featured a model of color. This unprecedented feat sets a new bar for racial and ethnic diversity in high fashion, a world in which people of color have struggled for representation not only on the catwalk but also behind the scenes. Due to the advocacy of people like former model and fashion activist Bethann Hardison and an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse customer base, fashion houses are slowly incorporating women of color into their brands.
The Met Gala, one of the more racially and ethnically diverse fashion events of the year, proved once again why it’s important to be inclusive in the ultra-exclusive world of fashion. Women of color brought creativity, imagination, and vitality to the event. Zendaya’s vibrant and unique Dolce & Gabanna dress and Helen Lasichanh’s Comme des Garçons bold, red jumpsuit captured Kawakubo’s craftsmanship, originality, and dynamism. Rihanna, Zendaya, Lasichanh, and Chopra exemplified the beauty and aesthetic genius of haute couture. They also nailed the purposes of the Met Gala: to honor the brilliance of designers like Kawakubo and to be one of the most (if not the most) artistically inclined red carpets of the year.
Without women of color, this year’s Met Gala red carpet wouldn’t have been as exciting or inspirational. Even women of color who didn’t evoke the theme in their ensembles created jaw-dropping red-carpet moments. Serena Williams debuted her baby bump in a form-fitting, bejeweled green Versace dress. La La Anthony, fresh off a widely-publicized separation from her estranged husband Carmelo Anthony, turned heads in a sheer Thai Nguyen Atelier gown and a ring on every finger —except for her left ring finger. Williams and Anthony created memorable moments, another key element for a successful Met Gala appearance.
The fashion world has a long way to go in terms of its racial and ethnic inclusivity. It has even further to go as it pertains to size and ability diversity. But if the 2017 Met Gala red carpet is any indication, women of color can and will be game-changers when given the opportunity to slay on fashion’s biggest stages.
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