And so, the coronavirus has another victim: the Met Gala. Despite several equivocations from chief organiser Anna Wintour that yes, the show would go on, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art announced last night that no, the show wouldn't go on actually, as the institution itself had been closed in light of the recent pandemic. With the hatches battened till at least 4 April, there is no venue for fashion's favourite fancy dress party, and cramming a load of jet-setting celebrities and ravenous paparazzi into small pens seems quite irresponsible at what is a very worrying time.
The fashion classes doth weep. That's because the industry's biggest evening grants designers free reign to explore their signature within a madcap theme. Celebrities too are given a rare chance to throw caution to the wind, free of the usual 'worst-dressed' risks. The Met Gala encourages absurdity. The press repays in kind.
And yet a fallow year isn't the worst thing for the Met Gala. After increasingly entertaining themes, like 2008 ('Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy'), 2013 ('Punk: Chaos to Couture') and 2019 (the frilly, outrageous spectacle that was 'Camp: Notes On Fashion'), the announcement of 2020's dress code was, well, a bit underwhelming. 'About Time: Fashion and Duration' was arguably as cloudy as it got. The party line from the committee wasn't so clarifying either, as the Met's director Max Hollerin outlined the invite as as a consideration of "the ephemeral nature of fashion, employing flashbacks and fast-forwards to reveal how it can be both linear and cyclical."
Right. While that kind of verbiage makes sense to the curators and academics and intellectuals who coordinate the Met on the back of an arts PhD from Politecnico di Milano, to the everyman – and indeed, the writers who deal with this stuff every single day – things weren't so clear. It isn't a given that big-ticket designer and their coterie of celebrities would understand either, as much simpler themes have given rise to outfits discordant with the evening's dress code: Kim Kardashian proving herself to be a real lazy girl in bodycon with a single crucifix for 2018's 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination'. The same can be said for Shawn Mendes going subtle in a black suit, when the point of 2019's camp theme – a notion originally conjured in the seminal essay by Susan Sontag – is supposed to be anything but subtle.
What was this year's code supposed to be, then? All and every style across the last two millennia? A pink-haired Paleolithic Neanderthal for Katy Perry? Kanye in a crinoline? Sarah Jessica Parker in amoeba form? As costume parties are ten a penny (and let's be honest, the Met Gala is, at its base level, an expensive costume party for couturiers), they're only fun, or exciting, or engaging when the theme is granular enough that everyone gets it, and everyone can play with it. Surprise people. Excite them. Make people want to dress up. Give them a challenge that they can understand.
And 2020's theme was not granular, nor exciting, nor clear. At best, it would be an archival nod to the greats, like Christian Dior and Azzedine Alaïa. But at worst, this year's Met Gala could've been a hodgepodge, high-fashion greatest hits catalogue with no common thread.
A fallow year, then, in which the Met Gala can rethink and refresh, is welcome. As the event has swelled in size over the last five years (thank Instagram, and the ever-quickening pace of news cycles), the pressure on Wintour and co to come up with something bigger and better and more bonkers was astronomical. Relieving that for just one year will work wonders, and allow the fashion industry to look beyond its navel. Eyes around the world want more Benedict Cumberbatch dressed as a tap-dancing dictator from a banana republic, not intellectual musings on the gendered use of shoulder pads.
So fashion people: do not be upset. With a year off, the dry creative well will runneth over once more. Next year could see a theme that makes us smile. And Anna, if you're reading this: use this chance to take a nice long break. You've earned it.
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