The Met Gala’s Garden of Delights

Red Carpet Fashion’s Big Night Was Full of Statement Dressing, but Lacked Real Statements

Red carpet fashion’s biggest night was aglitter with crystal flowers, ephemeral reflections, and
buzzworthy branding. While the looks of the 2024 Met Gala in some ways felt more
disconnected from the dress code than ever, an intriguing pattern of designer-ambassador link
ups emerged, pointing to the continued development of the role of creative director. Meanwhile,
there were some notable absences – which were made particularly sharp by the Costume
Institute Benefit’s theme and context.

The event’s dress code, “The Garden of Time,” is borrowed from the title of a J.G. Ballard short
story that is a somewhat ironic – or, depending on how you look at it, very fitting – choice for the
famously decadent gala given the narrative’s critique of out-of-touch aristocratic splendor. The
story follows a count and countess who live in a splendid hilltop villa surrounded by a garden of
crystalline “time flowers,” which, when picked, alter and slow the passing of time. Yet in the
distance, a “great unwashed” army of poor citizens approaches, clamoring to reclaim the
couple’s wealth as they play Mozart and study in the library. Picking a flower slows the
approach of the mob, but it only delays the inevitable. When they finally reach the villa, it has
run out of time, and is nothing more than a decaying ruin, a ghost of the wealth and beauty it
once was.

While this critical parable of class consciousness might have made for some truly interesting
conceptual departures for the outfits of celebrity guests, everyone played it safe, opting for literal
interpretations of the “garden” part of the theme, referencing the archival aspect of the Costume
Institute’s exhibition, or simply ignoring the dress code altogether.
In this first floral category were Zendaya in Maison Margiela, Greta Lee and Taylor Russell in
Loewe, Elizabeth Debicki and Alexandra Daddario in Dior couture, Gigi Hadid and Jayden Smith
in Thom Browne, Kerry Washington in Oscar De La Renta, Christian Cowan and Sam Smith –
making their Met Gala debut as a couple – wearing complementary Christian Cowan tuxes, and
many more. Jennifer Lopez in Schiaparelli, Janelle Monáe in Vera Wang, and Emily
Ratajkowski in Versace leaned a bit deeper into the theme’s literary inspiration with dresses
constructed of sculptural, crystalline floral motifs.

But on the crystal front it was of course the Swarovski squad that brought the biggest shine.
Creative director Giovanna Engelbert arrived with a trio of models and previous faces of the
brand, Karlie Kloss, Anok Yai, and Imaan Hammam, each wearing custom looks crafted with
tens of thousands of crystals.

This practice of designer and celebrity muse pairings was one of the emerging trends that
defined the night. Guram Gvasalia of Vetements, for example, arrived with Doja Cat, who he
dressed in just a towel – a Vetements clone of an Ikea towel, to be precise. Lily Gladstone was
captured with Gabriela Hearst wearing a custom Gabriela Hearst dress that referenced the
actor’s indigenous heritage. Chemena Kamali arrived with a group of celebs wearing her debut
Chloé collection. In addition to the stars looking excellent in his Burberry, Daniel Lee was also
wearing himself. And while Demna himself didn’t make an appearance in person, his presence
was nonetheless felt in the many Balenciaga brand ambassadors wearing his (not on-theme)
latest eveningwear pieces, including Michelle Yeoh, Nicole Kidman, and Michael Shannon.
What does this emerging pattern of creative directors stepping into the spotlight alongside their
own creations mean for the direction of luxury branding? For starters, it feels deeply emblematic
of the way a creative director’s duties for a major luxury fashion house extend far beyond
designing clothes and deep into building, and even being, the brand. In this connection, it’s also
intriguing to consider the absence of leading luxury brands that have made big style statements
through celebrity dressing in previous years. Notable absences included Gucci, Louis Vuitton,
and Bottega Veneta, who are perhaps eschewing this one big night in favor of investing in more
longer term strategies that better fit their unique brand needs.

But the biggest absence of the night was any meaningful recognition of art’s duty to respond to
what is happening in the world. As the night coincided with a huge Condé Nast workers strike
against exploitative labor practices and the Israeli military’s launch of a full-scale invasion and
bombing of Palestinian refugees in Rafah, which it had designated as a safe zone, it’s
disappointing that none of the hundreds of brands or celebrities present used their huge
platform to make a real statement. In this sense, then, the “Garden of Time” is eerily fitting: as
the world riots around it, luxury can only seem to pick its crystal roses and enjoy its own
company. While many of these looks were beautiful, it’s clear that fashion is still asleep.

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban in Balenciaga