May 04 2020 – Matt Rogan
With the most talked about night in fashion indefinitely postponed, we reflect on how this year’s Met Gala theme had the potential to catalyse ethical fashion into the mainstream media.
Though we can depend on the men to attend the Met Gala in an array of previously seen black suits, most attendees are expected to observe the niche dress code. When the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that this year’s Met Gala theme would be ‘About Time: Fashion and Duration’, some eyebrows were raised.
It wouldn’t be totally unfounded to accuse the event of intentionally choosing obscure themes (we’re still unsure about 2009’s ‘The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion’). Unsurprisingly, this year’s choice follows the classic formula of a Met Gala theme: vague enough to inspire different interpretations and pretentious enough to push the envelope.
Andrew Bolton, the Costume’s Institute chief curator, has said that the event should ‘generate debate’. Taking this into account, perhaps having an abstract theme is a practical decision if sparking conversation will spark change. This is particular resonant this year as the word ‘duration’ implies a reference to how we consume and conserve ethical fashion.
Recent statistics have shown that;
‘if no action is taken, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60 percent’
With this in mind, an intervention on sustainable clothing has never been more pressing.
Bolton has also stressed the importance of choosing ‘a topic that seems timely and defines a cultural shift that’s happening or is about to happen’. Though the money raised goes back into funding the Costume Institute itself, the association alone would have established this year’s first Monday of May as the first green campaigning Met Gala. With their seal of approval on the use of ethical resources and trade, the Met Gala would be endorsing a globally-influential message and preventing themselves from becoming just an annual performative spectacle.
When we consider the current state of sustainable fashion, it would be naive not to acknowledge its biggest threat: fast fashion.
Though these types of brands are not commonly associated with the Met Gala, the event has become a hub for brands to source and sample inspiration from. The custom pieces that will be worn at the gala are solely meant for public admiration. Inevitably though, the designs will be stolen, diluted and consequently mass manufactured by fast fashion brands in order to capitalise on public interest.
It is important to remember that the allure of fast fashion discounts always comes at a price, especially in an industry where labour malpractice is ingrained into the fabric of its functionality.
Low cost and seemingly high quality clothing is an ideal combination, but not a sustainable one. Overworked yet underpaid, workers of these fast fashion monoliths suffer at the expense of these cheap and often subpar purchases.
Even more troubling, these brands use toxic chemicals and inorganic materials that contribute to reducing expenditure and maximising profits. Though more is being discovered, little is still being exposed. For example, planned obsolescence is a confirmed manufacturing ploy; where brands deliberately design products with artificially limited shelf-life. Through the gloss and sheen of celebrity advocacy, it is these facts that the Met Gala 2020 had the opportunity to launch an awareness campaign on.
Anna Wintour’s coveted guest list is limited to those of cultural influence or impact. The coverage of the celebrity entrances (the only part that is televised) becomes a social media frenzy.
With the gala being a top trending event online, this worldwide platform had the potential to promote designers with an eco-friendly vision. Namely, Laura Strambi who used pineapple leaves as a leather alternative for Livia Firth’s dress in 2017.
It was only recently that Yves Saint Laurent announced their radical decision to disregard future Fashion Weeks in order to ‘take ownership of its calendar’. With speculation stirring that this is a defiant statement against the industry prioritising content over creativity, it has become a major moment for reclaiming ethical standards in fashion.
This enforced fallow year for the Met Gala will undoubtedly (and rightfully) allow us all some time to re-examine our relationship with durable fashion. Regardless to whether or not the gala will be eventually rescheduled, it is about time that durable fashion takes centre-stage.