Met Gala Red Carpet: Giving Sheer Power to Wintour

The sheer dresses worn to Monday’s Met Gala might have caused some to pause, but the dresses themselves were not newsworthy. Women have been working hard for the “shape of the moment” to show off in sheer or light clothing for quite some time. To be sure, the dresses from Monday were so “naked” and “structurally empty” that you needed a certain shape to carry it off: the body must be curvy, firm and statuesque (as Veronique Highland describes). And yet, it is still expected that the woman fit the dress, not the dress fit the woman.

So what if the three “stars” of this year’s red carpet looked like Aphrodite draped herself in a glittering cloud? (Although, as Givhan correctly suggests, they were more concubine than Aphrodite.) Who cares?

What was shocking about this years’ Met Gala was not that we’ve turned a new page in design, or that the “it” body is now more expensive than couture itself. Rather, it is shocking that decades after the 50s women are still allowing themselves to be nothing but a canvas, a thing to be shaped, a thing to be used for others’ material gain as opposed to an individual who can be appreciated for just being herself.

Is it a body or is it a canvas? Highland raises the pivotal question:

“We’ve officially entered a realm that you might call post-fashion. The body is the new outfit. The gym is the new atelier. Curves and indentations that were once sculpted by corsetry, boning, panniers, strategic padding, or even, more recently, Spanx are now squarely in evidence. Where celebrities once relied on the darting hands of petits mains fitting them, designers’ clever tricks of tailoring, stylists’ concerted applications of double-stick tape, they now turn to personal trainers (and maybe, in some cases, plastic surgeons) to design their bodies. And they’re, in some sense, wearing their bodies just as much as they are wearing fashion.”

Can you wear a body? If so, can you take it off? Can a body be a fashion statement all on it’s own? Is the body a work of fashion? Is the body a work of art? Is the body a work of design (be it a product of a trainer, a plastic surgeon, etc)? Can a body be discarded for a new one when it’s gone out of vogue?

Let’s rephrase the question — could you? Is your body you? Or is it just material for someone else? Although the question posed in the 50’s was just as rediculous then as it was on Monday, I believe the answer has not changed. Your body is just as intimate and indispensable to you as JLo’s is to her, as Beyonce’s is to her, and as Kim’s is to her. Could it be even more disturbing, then, to admit that the result of these three women’s work was that they looked more the same, not that they looked more individual? Is it perhaps ironic, given that being naked should be one of the most individual states we could ever be in?

True to Givhan’s point, Beyonce (and in turn JLo and Kim) were not at all an example of a fashion statement; they were not even aids in a demonstration of artistic merit. However, these three dresses and the echoing spectacle they’ve created has an unmistakably green shadow. The dresses on Monday were nothing more than proof of how hard some will work to make Anna Wintour money.

Do the math: the more noise a dress on this red carpet makes, the more headlines center around the Met Gala and, in turn, the more Wintour can show her corporate peers that her economic footprint is both immediate and enormous. She craves that kind of clout. It’s what makes her Anna Wintour. These three superstars drove the media into a frenzy just for the sake of demonstrating what kind of an asset they can be to her; how they can contribute to her own economic relevance. And in turn, Monday revealed that Wintour could care less for what these women wear as long as the buzz they create for her is so deafly resounding that it consequently makes her party a success.

Sneaky. Very sneaky.

My question after this week has nothing to do with bodies, design, China or history — but rather, power. When Wintour uses the Met Gala to demonstrate her own power, does that make her a responsible leader at a museum and at a magazine? Or does this kind of ruckus on the red carpet, her encouragement of “attention for the sake of attention”, make Wintour the most Kardashian of all?

It is yet to be decided: does sheer power make you a better gallery guardian? Does sheer power make you a better editor and storyteller?

That’s the question left behind. And I suppose the answer depends on who is reading.

[Photo Credit: Grace Kelly in High Society, 1956. Jay-Z and Beyonce, Met Gala 2015.]

Emilia Ferrara