The Met Gala, a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, is an annual gathering of glitterati, filled with models, celebrities, artists and designers. Standing out in that crowd is like distinguishing yourself among red-carpet valedictorians.
Monday night, it wasn’t a particular woman who took the crown, but a designer: Zac Posen.
Posen’s massive, architectural designs were all individually striking. Together, they ruled the evening with gravity-defying folds of fabric that seemed to stand on their own, some almost propping up the wearer on elegant, highly expensive tubes. These were not creations meant for those with the posture of sullen teenagers.
The Institute exhibit “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” set the tone for Posen’s triumph. The British-born James, who lived and worked in New York, is often called “America’s First Couturier.” Gothamist’s photos of the exhibit give an idea of James’s sweeping designs and decadent silhouettes. At the New Yorker, Judith Thurman explains just what made James’s constructions so fascinating, particularly his Clover Leaf ball gown, the most vivid inspiration for many of the evening’s dresses:
James’s masterpiece, by his own just assessment, was the famous Clover Leaf ball gown. I tried but failed to follow the cutaway drawings that illustrate its construction — it had thirty pattern pieces and weighed ten pounds — or [Met curator Jan Glier] Reeder’s description of “the semi-bias in the asymmetrical outer layer” and the “sequence of undulating curves, that work in symphony . . . with top and bottom curves undulating in opposite directions.” For a 2011 James show at the Chicago History Museum, the curators resorted to CT-scan technology to expose the bones of a James under its flesh. A photograph shows three bemused-looking technicians grappling with what looks like a supine débutante who wound up in the E.R. after the ball. It is actually James’s Swan dress strapped to a gurney.
Posen’s gowns tend to be elaborately constructed, often sporting bodices with folds and creases that resemble sartorial origami. In a world where modern red carpet fashion tends to vacillate between sleek and slouchy, Posen’s heavily tailored and structured pieces are fussy in a way that can seem anachronistic. Fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo have crowned Posen “King of Foofaraw.” But Monday, he just seemed like the heir apparent to James’s legacy of luxurious, elegant dressmaking.
Sometimes, decadent is what’s called for. And when it works, it really works. Take a look:
Three other dresses, though not designed by Posen, were worth noting, as they were clear homages to James’s signature: actress Sarah Jessica Parker in a dramatic gown by Oscar de la Renta, actress Hailee Steinfeld in Prabal Gurung, and model Karolina Kurkova, whose Marchesa gown may have been the most stunning of the evening.
“Charles James: Beyond Fashion” runs May 8 to Aug. 10 at the Met.