The Met Gala is fast approaching. Tonight’s event is a mainstay on the calendars of celebrities, fashion’s elite and New York high society, the extravagant event. Officially called the Costume Institute Benefit, it takes place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the first Monday in May, with guests dressed in keeping with the gala’s theme (or ignoring it altogether).
This year, the dress code is “In honor of Karl,” a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, the late fashion juggernaut with an indelible influence but controversial reputation. All eyes will be on the red carpet to see how guests interpret Lagerfeld’s complicated legacy — as well as if his beloved tortie cat, Choupette, will strut up the museum’s front steps.
Co-chairing this year’s event are actors Michaela Coel and Penélope Cruz, tennis giant Roger Federer, singer Dua Lipa and, as always, Vogue’s editorial director Anna Wintour.
Lagerfeld’s career will also be explored in the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” opening to the public the following day.
A long legacy
Serving as creative director of the storied French fashion house Chanel from 1983 until his death in February 2019, as well as the luxury Italian house Fendi from 1965, the German fashion designer loomed tall within the fashion industry. He left his mark on Chloé, Patou and Balmain as well over the course of his long career, working with each fashion house in different capacities (in addition to his own eponymous label), and has influenced countless others.
His final Fendi collection was shown at Milan Fashion Week just days after his death, with models including Gigi and Bella Hadid and Kaia Gerber walking the runway. The following month, Cruz made her runway debut at his final Chanel presentation.
Vintage throwbacks to Lagerfeld collections are likely to reign on Monday — as well as nods to his imitable suited-and-gloved personal style. Lagerfeld’s collections were not known for any one hallmark — besides luxury; he was revered for the transformative power he had at each house with which he worked. His oft-repeated yet unsavory quote on taking over the House of Chanel was: “Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a wh**e — and then you get something out of her.”
In his orbit were some of fashion and entertainment’s biggest names, including Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Pharrell, Keira Knightley, Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingne, some of whom will undoubtedly walk the red carpet this year. Younger models who have carried the Chanel torch, passed down from their mothers, include Gerber (daughter to Cindy Crawford) and Lily Rose-Depp (daughter to Vanessa Paradis).
A controversial figure
Lagerfeld’s influence and star-making power was undeniable, but over the years he made a number of disparaging statements that upheld thin ideals or cast criticism on the #MeToo movement at a time when the fashion industry was facing a reckoning. Whether or not all Met Gala guests will emphasize Lagerfeld in a positive light, or choose to make more subversive statements, remains to be seen. Last year, as many showed up in opulent garments fit for the Gilded Era for the theme “Gilded Glamour” some celebrities, including Gabrielle Union and Riz Ahmed, opted to honor communities who were marginalized during the period of runaway American wealth.
Last October, actor and body positivity advocate Jameela Jamil called the theme “a disappointing double standard” in the industry, pointing out on social media that Lagerfeld’s comments were recent. “It’s really weird when someone gets a completely free pass and I don’t want to be a part of that.”
The gala’s themes are chosen based on the Costume Institute’s new exhibitions. While past themes have explored highly conceptual or region-specific motifs, from “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” in 2018 to “China: Through the Looking Glass” in 2015, individual designers have been honored, too. They’ve included Rei Kawakubo, who is still living, in 2017, and Alexander McQueen, the year after his death, in 2011.
“A Line of Beauty” arrives more than two decades after a contentious failed collaboration between Lagerfeld and the museum, in which the designer’s retrospective of Coco Chanel was shelved — officially due to the recent death of the chief curator, though a New York Times report alluded to creative conflicts with Lagerfeld as well.
“Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” will run at the Met’s Costume Institute through mid-July.
Top image: Lagerfeld and Blake Lively at the Met Gala in 2011, which was dedicated to Alexander McQueen following his death.