The theme for the Met Gala was “China: Through The Looking Glass”. Themes from many years ago touched upon equivalent cultural subjects, for example in 1985 it was “Costumes of Royal India“, 1980 it was the humourously specific “The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, the Chi’ng Dynasty” and 1979 it was “Fashions of the Habsburg Era: Austria-Hungary “. This however, was before the age of social media and the internet, and it was unlikely that outfits would have been seen beyond those who attended or if you were lucky enough to have your picture printed in the paper, beyond the viewership. Those that may have been offended also couldn’t express their distress near as easily. For the past 15 years, since social media and the internet reallly took off, the themes have ranged from “The House of Chanel” to “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” to “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century”. All of these themes, while definitely leaving room for people to wildly misinterpret and get everything wrong, are quite forgiving in that mistakes are only seen as a fashion disaster, rather than an insanely racist gesture. The few themes that have had culture ties have been “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion” and “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”, and while it is possible for some interpretations of those themes could be a bit on the nose, both of these countries lack the structured tradition that is deeply entrenched in China and it’s roots.
It also remains a fact that a large majority of the attendees at this event reside in either England or America, or have spent a significant amount of time in either, and probably understand the culture of these countries much more thoroughly. They can avoid the consequential upset that would come with a poorly picked outfit.
Additionally, China isn’t really in the political state to open up and share it’s culture with those around it. So for those who haven’t experienced it first hand or don’t have a pretty dedicated research team, finding a way to try and celebrate this theme whilst still being culturally mindful could be difficult. Once I heard the theme before the night begun, I knew there would be some mis-steps. And some would be huge. There would be dragons and lots of red and gold and chopsticks headdresses and some outfits that were probably closer to other Asian denominations than Chinese (and I was right on all of those accounts) and there was going to be an uproar.
Honestly though, it was a difficult theme to work with. Every aspect of your outfit would have to be meticulously designed, and considered to make sure that there was absolutely nothing that could be interpreted as a Chinese stereotype. And sometimes it’s so hard to pick apart what is actually Chinese, what all the media says is Chinese and what your culture says is Chinese. I honestly think this was a theme that was doomed from the start – there’s a very particular way you can go about it with so many holes you can fall down.
Or does it just come down to making sure what you’re doing, or not participating at all? If you’re relying on poor stereotypes to make a statement about a particular culture whilst in the spotlight, you’re pretty much guaranteeing your own social death. If you don’t have the time or make the effort to make sure it’s right, you kinda deserved that facebook funeral didn’t you? Miley Cyrus obviously wanted nothing to do with having to figure it all out, so it looked like she went with last years theme of Punk. Totally unrelated. Totally un-offensive.
Emma Roberts originally had chopsticks in her hair until she posted a pre-event selfie on instagram, experienced huge amounts of backlash, and when she arrived at the Gala didn’t have them in anymore.
Karolina Kurkova pretty much dressed like she typed “sexy Chinese dress” into google and ran with the first result that popped up.
I pose you all these questions, opening with Sarah-Jessica Parker and THAT headdress.
Sure it’s striking, but is it any more appropriate than people wearing Native Indian headdresses to music festivals?
Is she to be blamed, is she to be blamed more than the average person would be because she has a team of designers at her disposal, or is she simply doing “Chinese” in her understanding of the word and that’s okay?
I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts!
Pic link is here .