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Met Gala: A look back at the previous decade's best looks that actually related to the themes

Met Gala: A look back at the previous decade's best looks that actually related to the themes

Pomp and circumstance

Text: Asri Jasman


The Met Gala 2021 is actually happening. After an unfortunate (but needed) cancellation last year due to the pandemic, the annual fundraising event is slated to return albeit with some changes.

The new overarching theme that's been planned is all about American fashion. Unlike previous years, the theme this year will span across 2021 and 2022. That also means that we're getting two new fashion-focused exhibits at New York's Metropolitan Museum of the Art that will be conceptualised around American fashion.

In America: A Lexicon of Fashion will kick off the two-part series on 18 September 2021 and housed in the museum's Anna Wintour Costume Centre. It will then be followed by In America: An Anthology of Fashion, that's slated to open on 5 May 2022 in the period rooms of the American Wing. Both exhibits will then run through 5 September 2022.

With the first exhibit only scheduled to open in September, the Met Gala 2021 has also been pushed back. Instead of it's now-traditional first Monday of May shindig, the Met Gala 2021 will take place on 13 September 2021. And because of the ongoing pandemic, it will be a relatively smaller affair before the 2022 edition resumes as per normal.

While we have to wait a while more for the who's who in fashion and pop culture to impress us (or not) with their themed costumes this year, we take a look back at the bests in the past decade. And especially those that actually read the invite and paid attention to each year's theme. If you're confused by what each theme entailed — they can be pretty esoteric at times — we're breaking them down too so you won't be confused why Rihanna turned up looking like an exploded flower pot one year, and a regal omelette in another.

2011: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

What: A celebration of the work of the late British fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, spanning that of his eponymous label as well as his appointment at Givenchy.

How it should have been approached: Basically, if they're wearing Alexander McQueen, they got it right. If not, anything related to McQueen's work — nature, exaggerated volumes, traditional British silhouettes and details, and deconstruction — would have worked. "Savage Beauty" would have been a key phrase to pay attention to, so anything that's occurs beautiful in its natural state but then reworked in almost destroyed ways would have fit.

2012: Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations

What: A visual conversation of similarities between two Italian fashion designers of two different eras — late couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.

How it should have been approached: With themes that relate to particular designers, the most conventional approach would be to wear their designs. The similarities between the two (although subtle and requires quite a bit of research) also provided many different interpretations. Schiaparelli's known for her love of Surrealism, thus exaggerated proportions and wacky details would have worked tremendously well. For Prada, her love for opposing elements would have been an easy workaround.

2013: Punk: Chaos to Couture

What: An examination of punk's influence throughout the years in fashion and dress.

How it should have been approached: Think edgy, irreverent fashion that's non-conformist in nature. And because the Met Gala is a costume event in its essence, anything that resembled a punk icon would have been perfect. The idea of punk is pretty broad so anything aside from traditionally pretty gowns and dresses would definitely not have cut it.

2014: Charles James: Beyond Fashion

What: An exploration of the works of late twentieth-century Anglo-American couturier Charles James.

How it should have been approached: While not a familiar name to many, James was highly regarded for his voluminous ball gowns. At the most basic, they were the typical Cinderella-type gowns that were fitted at the waist before ballooning out. Designs that were fitted with extra flounces, godets or constructed with such sculptural precision ensured that an attendee knew the theme well.

2015: China: Through the Looking Glass

What: A look at the impact of Chinese design on Western fashion.

How it should have been approached: This was probably one of the more contentious themes in the past decade, simply because there could have been some inappropriate and risky moments of cultural appropriation. But it's always the intention that matters and in this instance, it was a celebration of Chinese design and how it has managed to influence designers outside of China. Motifs that depicted traditional Chinese elements such as the crane, dragon and water lilies were a surefire way of sticking to the theme. And then the choice of colours and borrowing design elements from traditional Chinese dress would have been given the stamp of approval.

2016: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

What: An exploration into how technology has changed the way fashion is created.

How it should have been approached: This was rather tricky to get right, only because it would have required a bit of explanation about how an outfit was made. But visually, the tech aspect of the theme could have been interpreted in futuristic elements of an outfit — silver and metallic elements, rigid and almost alien-like forms, as well as over-the-top construction details would have all been safe bets.

2017: Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between

What: The works of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.

How it should have been approached: Aside from wearing Comme des Garçons, channelling Kawakubo's design aesthetics — unusual proportions, deconstructed constructions, as well as inflections of punk — would have been a no-brainer.

2018: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

What: A look into how fashion connects with the practices and traditions of Catholicism.

How it should have been approached: Religious symbols that pertain to Catholicism would definitely make sense in this instance. But beyond that, referencing the dress of Catholic figures as well as art created in the name of Catholicism, would have worked seamlessly too.

2019: Camp: Notes on Fashion

What: An exploration of the idea of 'camp' and it's flashy and joyous aesthetic.

How it should have been approached: The theme did puzzle quite a lot of people (perhaps even Frank Ocean) unfamiliar with the idea. 'Camp' is pretty much flamboyance, exuberance and unnecessary flourishes that are borders that fine line between trashy and acceptable. In other words, anything that was staid and boring with no elements of fun or surprise should have been avoided; everything else was okay.