The Met Gala, the event most consistently capable of bringing the richest and most famous together under one roof, is intended to embody and celebrate the very best of the fashion world. Yet on this year’s first Monday of May, its peculiarly toothpaste patterned carpet hosted a disappointing assortment of rehashed looks and virality-hunting gimmicks. This was certainly a revealing insight into the current state of an industry that has increasingly prioritised paying deference to established elites and promoting overconsumption over celebrating real creativity. Those with as dysfunctional a sleep schedule and as committed a penchant for self-punishment as I, who watched the entirety of Vogue’s coverage, may have begun the next day with a degree of pessimism regarding fashion’s value as a medium. However, Oxford’s very own Fashion Gala the following night presented an uplifting alternative, showcasing a medley of refreshingly original designs without requiring the Met’s exorbitant cost or starpower.
A lot of the varied success of both events should be attributed to their leadership. Anna Wintour, since taking command of the Gala’s operation in 1995, has prioritised a conservation of the status quo over championing new innovation, epitomised in this year’s theme “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty”. Since he was a close personal friend and ally of Wintour’s, guests were invited to “honour Karl” in the gala’s dress code. Lagerfeld, a man whose past comments have ranged from fat shaming to islamophobia and covered a great deal in between hardly seems worthy of honour; the looks inspired by his legacy, and the vague nothingness of the “line of beauty” stimulus also failed to do so. The predictable nods to Lagerfeld’s signature aesthetic, in a steady stream of monochrome suits and ties peppered with ponytails, quickly grew old. The odd appearance of cats whether vaping, decapitated or naked and silver, whilst briefly amusing, similarly failed to deliver much of a lasting impact and managed to traumatise a poor dog in the process.
Alternatively, co-Creative Directors of Oxford’s Fashion Gala this year, Shaan Sidhu and Harvey Morris elected to celebrate another recently departed icon of fashion, Vivienne Westwood, through the theme “Buy less, choose well”. A quote from Westwood herself, its message sharply contrasts the level of excess the Met has increasingly encapsulated, whilst exemplifying Westwood’s lifelong commitment to sustainability. It also speaks to the intentionality of her designs, coupling visual spectacle and technical mastery with meaningful statements: in one of her own Met Gala appearances, she famously pinned a picture of activist and whistleblower Chelsea Manning to her dress, a degree of social consciousness sorely missed in this year’s lineup. That spirit of self-expression and innovation was powerfully captivated by the Oxford Fashion Gala’s almost twenty designers who worked tirelessly around work and exams to deliver an incredible variety of carefully crafted looks, from Miles Davis emblazoned trench coats to bare footed fairies (because why on earth would a fairy require shoes?). I myself had the great honour of wearing a suit by Tariq Saeed that has made me seriously question the inclusion of shirts in my wardrobe. Unlike the stylists to the Met’s stars, who crawled around on all fours adjusting lengthy trains and avoiding the cameras, these designers’ hard work was rightfully recognised with a final walk down the runway.
In the end, The Met Gala suffers under the weight of its own pomp and circumstance, readily apparent in its all-important media coverage. The line of reporters and photographers asking the same questions to uncomfortable-looking celebrities, who try to recollect why Lagerfeld was in fact their personal hero, makes for tortuous watching. Whilst interviews in Freud’s green room/kitchen may have been cramped, they at least captured a sense of occasion and personality; it is perhaps here where the Met falls most egregiously short. It fails to live up to its premise as a gala, intended at its core to be a celebration and what one might hope would be a good time. Yet watching the parade of A-listers awkwardly make their way up the carpeted steps, I couldn’t help but echo some of their own sentiments that they could sorely benefit from a drink. Perhaps next year they’ll give it a miss and grab one at Freud.