Fashion and Beauty

Gilded extravagance at the Met Gala

ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre - The Philippine Star
Gilded extravagance at the Met Gala
M1 Alice Claypole Vanderbilt in her “Electric Light” gown (cnn.com)

There couldn’t have been a more appropriate theme for the Met Gala, fashion’s biggest night out. Inspired by “The Gilded Age” (1870-1890), a term coined by Mark Twain and the title of his novel, which satirizes greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America, “Gilded Glamour” just says it all about New York at its zenith: a time of prosperity, industrialization and growth with all its attendant drama and grandeur. The Astors, Fricks, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts shaped the country’s infrastructure while the socialites of the era, including Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and Alva Vanderbilt, ruled New York society.

Inventions included the lightbulb and telephone, as well as high-speed machines to speed up the process of clothes making. Undergarments like corsets, bustle pads, crinolines and even steel springs to achieve the right shapes were complicated. Elaborate dresses were status symbols and American women would even go to Paris to have fittings with the pioneers of couture, like Charles Worth and Paul Poiret.

Alice Vanderbilt made headlines posing a la Statue of Liberty, wearing the “electric light dress” from Worth — highly embellished to catch the light and accessorized with a handheld electric torch that was cutting-edge at that time. For the elite, fashion became maximal: a mix of sumptuous fabrics, fringes, lace, crystal trimming, bows and even bird wings. Hats required so many feathers, wings, and stuffed dead birds that it caused the formation of the Audubon Society to protect birds in 1895.

Excess, indeed, was the operative word this year for the stars, who channeled that period with the most opulent gowns and jewels for the grandest annual fundraising party for the museum’s Costume Institute. The gala coincides with the opening of the exhibit “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” the second part of 2021’s exploration of American style, which has a “rich and deep history,” according to US First Lady Jill Biden, who also said in her opening speech that “It is a story of innovation and ingenuity, of rebellion and renewal.”

M2 Blake Lively in Atelier Versace and Ryan Reynolds in Ralph Lauren (vogue.com)

The dress code brings to mind one of our favorite films, The Age of Innocence, directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the book by Edith Wharton. A special feature actually involves Scorsese, who, together with seven other directors, was asked to create mise-en scènes in each room of the exhibit, reflecting their perspectives on American fashion.

On the red carpet, all relics of the Gilded Age were present, starting with corsets, which were seen on both men and women.  Gigi Hadid’s corseted bodice was part of a super-tight, blood-red latex catsuit underneath a quilted puffy coat from Versace.

Billie Eilish’s Gucci corset was upcycled from remnant satin and lace to create a bordello madam look.

Among the men, Lenny Kravitz rocked the undergarment in black lace and leather, while Evan Mock did it cute in a Little Lord Fauntleroy look by Head of State.

Trains and capes also dominated.  Blake Lively, co-chair of the event, arrived in a copper, crystal-embellished Versace with a bustle that unraveled and “patinated” into a verdigris train with the celestial design of the Grand Central Station ceiling, the other architectural landmark inspiration for her dress aside from the Empire State Building.

Alicia Keys’ cape had all the landmark buildings of New York embroidered in silver in her caped gown by Ralph Lauren.

Lively’s other muse was the Statue of Liberty, which she evoked with a tiara, another key trend for the evening.

Emma Chamberlain matched her vintage Cartier crown with a bare-midriff puffed sleeved top and serpentine skirt by Louis Vuitton.

Hamish Bowles crowned his Ralph Lauren tails with a Verdura gold feather tiara last seen in 1957 at a Buckingham Palace ball when it was worn by Betsey Whitney.

Even honorary co-chair Anna Wintour swapped her signature dark glasses for her family’s 1910 heirloom tiara, glittering above her feathery Chanel.  Feathers, in fact, also ruled:  Hailey Bieber in a slinky ice-colored silk gown by Saint Laurent trimmed with marabou and Emma Stone recycling her feathered Louis Vuitton slip dress used for her wedding. Stone was one of 14 ambassadors of the brand wearing archival pieces that evening.

Emma Corrin, in Miu Miu, also crossed the gender divide by channeling Evander Berry Wall, the Gilded Age dandy known for his predilection for champagne and changing outfits a dozen times a day. Going the other way was Kodi Smit-McPhee in red leather opera gloves to go with his Bottega Veneta leather jeans and tuxedo shirt.

Those opera gloves were the go-to accessories for instant gilded glamour.  Fil-American pop star Olivia Rodrigo was a vision in a lavender Versace gown with off- the-shoulder straps matched with the sheerest gloves.

M3 Molly Sims in Monique Lhuillier (@moniquelhuillier).

Another Filipino sighting was a regal Monique Lhuillier pink gown worn by Molly Sims, who received a lot of compliments, including being named as one of the few stars who got the theme right.

Coming from a family known for their lavish parties and busy social calendars, how could the Pinay designer not get it right? She comes from a country where fiestas and parties are a national, everyday phenomenon, after all, and dressing up appropriately for them just comes naturally.

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Follow the authors on Instagram @rickytchitov; Twitter @RickyToledo23; Facebook - Ricky Toledo Chito Vijandre.


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