Kim Kardashian, in a draped petrol blue Lanvin gown, was
one of the best dressed, you know it was a crazy night.
Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala in
New York for the fashion exhibition "Charles James:
Beyond Fashion" on Monday night was beyond fashion,
often called "America’s first couturier,"
was at his height from the 1930s to the 1950s, when he
revolutionized fashion from the inside out. A sculptor
of cloth, he championed strapless dresses, the
figure-eight skirt and spiral cuts. His work was the
antithesis of today’s disposable fast-fashion. Each
piece was painstakingly constructed, hand-sculpted to
the client’s measurements, took hundreds of hours to
complete and available only to the super-wealthy.
catered to the upper crust of his time — the Hearsts,
the Merriweather Posts, the Vanderbilt Whitneys and so
the red-carpet parade leading into the event celebrating
James on May 5 looked much the same — at first glance.
The dress code was ball gowns and gloves for women;
white tie, tails and decorations for men.
Editor Anna Wintour, who earlier that Monday had the
museum’s new Costume Institute space named in her
honor — inaugurated by none other than First Lady
Michelle Obama — led the charge in a tasteful floral
gown by Chanel Couture. She was accompanied by daughter
Bee Schaffer, in a gorgeous pale blue satin-and-tulle
trumpet gown by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton. (So
much for the rabble-rousing reputation of that label.)
so it went for a while, the genteel display that the
fashion industry is so good at promoting. (Everyone is
rich, thin, gorgeous and happy, remember?)
Sarah Jessica Parker, hair piled atop her head, wore a
black-and-white confection with a train signed by its
creator, today’s Charles James, the patrician designer
Oscar de la Renta. (It was a big night for de la Renta,
who dressed several women in his brand of unflappable
retro glam, including Karlie Kloss, Taylor Swift and Amy
were yards of gleaming duchesse satin as far as the eye
could see. Even trash-talking funny lady Sarah Silverman
looked like a lady.
imagined tiny royal waves to the crowd, accompanied by
choruses of "Charmed, I’m sure." It was all
then something great happened: I started to notice how,
if you looked beyond the polished veneer, the fashion
industry is more layered and inclusive than it was in
James’ day, and much the better for it. The night
really belonged to patrician pretenders, dress-code
disturbers and reality-show royalty.
every leading man — including John Legend, Johnny Depp,
Benedict Cumberbatch, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles and
fashion icon Andre Leon Talley — wore Ralph Lauren.
And Lauren is the biggest patrician pretender of all —
a Jewish kid who grew up in the Bronx, changed his name
from Lifshitz to Lauren and scaled the heights of power
in America. Now, his son David, who is executive vice
president of global advertising, marketing and
communications for the brand, has married into one of
America’s first families, pairing with Lauren Bush
(granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush).
Beckham, a teenage pop tart turned taste-maker, was
wearing a dress of her own design (and hubby David
Beckham, like several men on Monday night, eschewed the
dress code of tails and wore a tux instead). Former
child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen looked like
old-world society matrons. And Talley, the longtime
Vogue editor (who recently left the publication), chose
to pay homage not to any designer but to pop music
provocateur Pharrell Williams by wearing a Vivienne
Westwood Mountain hat.
dress code went out the window, was stomped on and
far the biggest and best disturbance was Lupita Nyong’o,
dressed in a Prada green chandelier dress, like
something Josephine Baker would have worn in James’
era, when she fled segregated America for fame and
fortune in France.
there some historical commentary in her outfit choice? I
certainly hope so. Women such as Nyong’o certainly
wouldn’t have been privy to Charles James designs.
Richie slinked in wearing Donna Karan crushed velvet and
violet-hued hair. Model Naomi Campbell shimmied in
Givenchy crystals and marabou feathers. And Beyonce
underwhelmed in basic black Givenchy.
there were the West-Kardashians: Rapper Kanye and his
reality-show muse, the new king and queen of American
culture, perfectly dressed for the dress code by Lanvin,
one of the oldest fashion houses in France.
comes full circle in America. And that’s why these two
were on the March cover of Vogue.
made fashion seem like the most equal-opportunity
business in the world for a change. And that was