Beyoncé got what she wanted. She arrived during the last moments of the Met Gala red carpet ceremony and she sent social media and the assembled photographers into a frenzy. She was wearing a concoction by Givenchy that can only loosely be called a dress as it was more like a bedazzled scrim. It had little to do with the theme of the exhibition, which the gala is intended to celebrate.
“China: Through The Looking Glass” artfully explores the relationship between the fashion industry and Chinese culture. Several guests made a good faith effort to honor that topic, among them Rihanna — who has been known to wear a scrim or two on the red carpet – with an elaborate yellow extravaganza by the Chinese designer Guo Pei whose work is featured in the exhibit.
Beyoncé’s dress paid homage to the plant-based diet book “The 22-Day Revolution,” for which she wrote the foreword. It spoke of showgirls and Cher and while all of them have an honored place in popular culture, as an entertainer Beyoncé is arguably more accomplished. She likes to posit that she is thoughtful and deep. She is a feminist. And so, one would expect there to be a certain something to her attire: a wry joke, a provocative aside, a politically savvy wink. Something that goes beyond: Look what a plant-based diet can do!
If there was any tenuous connection to the exhibition, it was that Beyoncé appeared to be paying homage to imperial concubines, with an impeccable, tuxedo clad Jay Z standing in as the emperor. Mr. Beyoncé , by the way, maintained a placid expression during the photo session, one that seemed to suggest that viewers were bearing witness to a wise husband, befuddled by his wife’s chosen ensemble, but standing firm in his belief that his only option for self-preservation is to simply say nothing.
Beyoncé made herself the star of the red carpet, which is to say that she made herself the star of the evening. The Met Gala might ultimately raise funding for the Anna Wintour Costume Center, but as an event it is essentially an expression of fashion’s grandeur and creativity. There is a dinner and there is entertainment, but all of that is an aside. The main course is that long promenade up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art where photographers stand two and three cameras deep and fans cheer from across Fifth Avenue.
A woman — even one who lives her life in the public eye — does not slip into a costume like the one Beyoncé wore without inviting an intimate assessment of the look. What is most disappointing is that as a garment it was rather dull. It lacked finesse and surprise and the kind of titillation that Tom Ford, for instance, managed to stir up with his high-end pasties. Even more of a disappointment is that the dress failed to show off the marvelous technical skills of Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s creative director. (But give the beaders a raise!) In that regard, it missed the point of the evening entirely. The Met Gala is all about the dress. The women who wear them — famous, beautiful, infamous — are meant to direct the eye to a designer’s spectacular feat of craftsmanship.
So much about the Met Gala is orchestrated that it is a challenge to display individual style. But for better or worse women such as Chloe Sevigny in J.W. Anderson and Solange Knowles in a sculptural Giles Deacon mini-dress wore ensembles that spoke to their personal sensibility. Folks may not have liked their choices, but they offered a point-of-view. They made a statement. They were present. Beyoncé’s choice was hollow.
Her legs, her breasts, her torso, her back and her derriere all looked fabulous. But the woman herself was nowhere to be found.