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The Met Gala, Vogue Rewrite History
A centerpiece made from recycled bottles acknowledged the current cultural climate. Karl's legacy of controversy, however? Vogue doesn't know her.
Thank you to all the Back Row subscribers who joined me in the live chat last night! I had so much fun bantering with all of you about this special Met Gala, which featured two people dressed as cats and a remarkably dysfunctional livestream. I’ll host another one of these for paid subscribers following the series finale of Succession on May 28.
Around an hour and fifteen minutes into Vogue’s Met Gala red carpet livestream, Choupette entered the cream-colored carpet that arguably resembled toothpaste. Only, this wasn’t the actual celebrity cat that the night’s late honoree Karl Lagerfeld wanted to marry. It was a person in an animal suit whose first order of business was hugging a confused Lizzo. After that embrace, the cat started waving its paws and moving further onto the carpet, where it was swiftly surrounded by four concerned-looking publicists. As they had already done dozens of times for various stars’ trains, one bent down to position his tail photogenically behind him.
Up the stairs, the cat removed its head, revealing Jared Leto, who now has the distinction of having held two heads on the red carpet as part of his fashion moments for the Met Gala. (Previously, he held a replica of his own, as an ambassador for Alessandro Michele’s Gucci in 2019.) Leto is playing Karl Lagerfeld in a biopic of his life, which certainly put pressure on him to make a statement at the gala honoring him. Coupled with Doja Cat also coming dressed as a cat, it was a remarkable cat-washing of Karl’s legacy, which the Met and Vogue worked diligently over months to scrub perfectly clean for the consumption of the public who might not know much if anything about him.
Though Vogue did not acknowledge Lagerfeld’s history of controversy leading up to the gala, nor did the Costume Institute, which held a press preview of the exhibition opening May 5 the morning of the party, other outlets did, including but not limited to Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and BuzzFeed.
Earlier in Back Row: The Met Gala Mailbag Is Here!
Sara Ziff who runs the Model Alliance, a nonprofit working to establish better working conditions for models, published an essay in the Daily Beast titled, “The Met Gala Is Wrong to Honor Model Abuse-Enabler Karl Lagerfeld.” Ziff, who recently filed a lawsuit against a Miramax executive alleging he raped her in 2001, noted Lagerfeld’s comments on the #MeToo movement: “In a stunning reveal of his own ignorance, he said he was shocked that ‘starlets’ took ‘20 years to remember what happened’ — as though trauma, stigma, and fear of retaliation weren’t preventing victims from speaking up.” She added, “Models who came forward about their abuse were labeled by Lagerfeld as ‘stupid,’ ‘toxic,’ and ‘sordid creatures.’”
Raquel Laneri wrote in the New York Post, “[S]ome fashion fans said you can’t separate the art from the artist. After all… Lagerfeld mined his own image and celebrity for publicity, and certainly his designs, creating mink keychains in his likeness for Fendi, for example.” The Costume Institute’s chief curator Andrew Bolton may have anticipated the controversy that would accompany bestowing the extraordinary honor of a show at the Met Museum plus the Met Gala that opens it on Lagerfeld (Karl’s designs were already featured as one-third of the Met’s 2005 Chanel exhibition). He writes in the catalog for Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, “We did not want to emphasize ‘Lagerfeld the man’… Rather, we wanted to focus on ‘Lagerfeld the designer’ — his works, not his words.”
Yet Karl’s words actually got an entire room in the exhibit. Toward the end of the show, a circular space is lined with iPhones with videos that cut between Karl laughing and his quotes. The Met unsurprisingly didn’t choose to glorify his comments about sexual assault here, instead showing stuff like, “I have one instinct that is stronger than all others: the survival instinct.”
It’s easy to forget all this when you’re watching the Met Gala, the Super Bowl of red carpets, where we had two cats but also so many truly delightful non-cat looks! Prabal Gurung dressed Anok Yai like a fabulous gilded jellyfish; Gigi Hadid made Matthew Williamson’s plighted Givenchy look cool and youthful; celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Dua Lipa wore what are considered to be some of the world’s most exquisite bridal gowns; and Serena Williams and Karlie Kloss made happy pregnancy announcements. I am far from the only one who felt heartwarmed to see Brittney Griner there on a date with her wife Cherelle.
The Vogue livestream didn’t acknowledge the controversy around Karl at all. Remembrances from celebrities shared there include Cara Delevingne’s: “He is one of those people that no matter where is he, he’s always there.” Carla Bruni’s: “Karl didn’t really believe in death, he would always say death doesn’t exist, the person just goes in another room and the person can come back any minute.” And Paris Hilton’s: “Karl Lagerfeld and I hung out in Paris a couple of times.”
Surprisingly, one of the most interesting stories about him came from Tommy Hilfiger, who wore a white shirt Karl gave to him that buttoned in the back and had a separate collar: “I’m not sure how he was able to get dressed in an outfit like this every day, but certainly had a valet.” His wife Dee added, “I did not help [Tommy] get into it, I would have no idea what to do. But we had a whole team that helped us get put together tonight. It took a small village.”
We also heard about how Kim Kardashian just wanted to “feel glamorous” this year and how her Schiaparelli look was crafted from real pearls, some of which popped off en route to the event (she said her daughter North grabbed them and put them in her purse). Coach creative director Stuart Vevers got some livestream time to plug Coachtopia, a line that the brand advertises as “made with waste.” Also made with waste were the barriers separating the press from the carpet and the centerpiece at the museum’s entry, which is typically made from flowers, but that event designer Raul Avila decided to craft this year from thousands of water bottles. “Given today’s climate, we wanted to highlight the importance of giving our everyday items more than one life cycle,” Avila said.
I have a story in ANNA: The Biography about the time the late S.I. Newhouse, the chairman of Vogue parent company Condé Nast and Anna’s boss for many years, advised her over lunch in the nineties to “follow the money.” Newhouse was a man of few words and my impression of him after reporting the book was that the often noxious office environment that the company has worked to distance from since his death in 2017 likely stemmed from the very top. Yet that piece of advice is something Anna has followed with remarkable success. She put a Karl exhibit in the Met because she liked him and wearing his clothes but also because it provided great shrift to Chanel and Fendi, two Vogue advertisers and the chief sponsors of the exhibition. She has molded a fashion industry in which its major players seem to constantly be following the money, too. You have people like Kardashian, whose Met Gala-related publicity only helps to promote her Skims shapewear and SKKN skincare brands. You have brands like Coach, which can use the gala to advertise its “sustainable” line after the embarrassment of being caught destroying and trashing its unsold merchandise in 2021. And you have Nicole Kidman wearing the dress she wore in a literal ad — her 2004 Chanel No. 5 commercial.
And you have all the celebrities willing to deliver the Vogue party line on Lagerfeld, which will only help their chances at getting invited back next year, where they can promote more clothes and more movies and more stuff for us to consume.
I am consistently impressed with the event, where the fashion is always fun to see. But this time, I was particularly impressed by Anna’s ability to brush the non-Vogue media narrative about Karl under that undoubtedly terrifically expensive custom rug. I was much less impressed with Vogue’s livestream, which is run like a typical broadcast red-carpet pre-show, but struggled from beginning to end owing to snooze-y interviews, numerous technical difficulties, and top stars like Lizzo and top designers like Chanel’s Virginie Viard not even bothering to stop to chat.
Toward the end of the night, when reporters were waiting for Rihanna to show up (she finally arrived around 10:30, half an hour before the event’s end time, forcing dozens of media members to wait for hours on their feet just to see her), a cockroach scampered onto the carpet. Of course it went viral, providing necessary comic relief to the late stage capitalism and celebrity worship on display at an event where pearls are treated like sequins and four publicists magically materialize around each star to fix their trains or, as it may be, their tail.
Also check out the Fug Girls’ Met Gala recap over at Drinks With Broads.