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Unconventional constructions and a plethora of debuts: Highlights from the Met Gala’s Garden of Time

By Rachel Douglass


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Fashion |In Pictures

American actress Zendaya arrives at the Met Gala 2024 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 6 May 2024 in New York, wearing a Givenchy look by John Galliano (1996). Credits: Photo by ANDREA RENAULT / AFP

Anticipation for fashion’s biggest annual event had already begun over the weekend, when the usual marquee was erected over the steps of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, adorned with the words ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’, the title of the exhibition associated with this year’s Met Gala.

While the exhibition is to explore the notions of rebirth and renewal, with nature used to highlight fashion’s impermanence, the event’s core theme was intangibly intertwined with this concept. Guests were asked to construct looks referencing ‘The Garden of Time’, a dystopian short story by J.G. Ballard about a couple living a decadent lifestyle that they are ultimately forced to bring to an end.

Ahead of the event, fashion enthusiasts were concerned that attendees would take the ‘garden’ part of the theme too literally, and as a result we would be inundated with floral gowns. However, for the most part, this wasn’t the case. It appeared many took note of the darker tropes of the novel, some playing with the concept of whittling time the protagonists, Count Axel and his wife, faced, with their limited expanse of flowers being the only thing separating them from the threat of darkness that existed beyond the confines of their home.

With this in mind, there were extensive opportunities for Met Gala attendees, with historical references and the emphasis on nature being just two of the avenues that could be explored. Here’s what graced the grand steps of the Met for the first Monday of May.

It was Loewe’s night

Ayo Edebiri and Greta Lee in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.

Beyond mulling what to actually wear, one challenge likely faced by many stylists for this edition was the musical chairs of creative directors that has occurred at some of the biggest fashion houses in recent months, meaning many brands have remained off-limits and therefore out of the spotlight. While this may have resulted in the notable absence of Met favourites like Valentino and Gucci, celebrities seemingly found a sense of stability in Spanish label Loewe, which appeared to have come out on top in the race to dress the most attendees – having even dressed Met Gala co-chair Anna Wintour.

Taylor Russell in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.

The brand naturally found favour among its leading global brand ambassadors, including Met first timer Taylor Russell, who had famously pried a smile out of Wintour at Loewe’s SS24 show when she wore a full metal jacket. At the Met, she continued this streak of rigid design in a 3D moulded bodice reminiscent of wood marquetry, which then contrasted a draped silk skirt.

Loewe executed a similar Grecian silhouette for Ariana Grande, swapping the timber aesthetic for mother-of-pearl, in a gown that bore the appearance of an iridescent shell. Bodices continued to play an important role for Greta Lee’s attire, with her sculptural piece enriched in 3D flowers that trailed down the chantilly silk lace. This insistence on such florals was also present in Ayo Edebiri’s gown, which took the ‘garden’ theme head on through an optical illusion.

Ariana Grande and Ambika Mod in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.
Alison Oliver and Anna Wintour in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.
Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.

Men of the moment, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist were also championing Loewe, a somewhat expected pairing considering the brand’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson, was appointed the head of costume for the duo’s recently released film, Challengers – a project Met host Zendaya headed. While Faist’s double-breasted jacket and contrasting white tailored trousers took a more traditional approach to dress, albeit with the added extra of sparkly radish brooch, O’Conner’s look experimented with dimensions, seen in his elongated tailcoat akin to the otherworldly details of Loewe’s AW24 women’s collection.

Jonathan Bailey and Dan Levy in Loewe. Credits: Loewe.

Menswear knocked it out the park

Lewis Hamilton in Burberry. Credits: Burberry.

Menswear continued to stun well into the evening as many took on the role of Count Axel, bringing a sense of drama to the night. It was particularly those representing Burberry that encapsulated the character. Over his double-breasted suit, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, for example, draped a floral embroidered coat, which notably had a quote from Alex Wharton’s poem ‘The Gardener’ emblazoned into its lining. Actor Barry Keoghan took the concept one step further, opting for a Regency era-like suit in an olive velvet, complete with a ruffled poplin shirt, a pocket watch and a wool top hat.

Barry Keoghan in Burberry and Jamie Dornan in Loewe. Credits: (From left) Burberry and Loewe.
Steven Yuen in Thom Browne and Nicholas Galitzine in Fendi Men's. Credits: (From left) Thom Browne and Fendi.

Others were a little more minimal in their approach, yet this doesn’t mean to say that there still weren’t some surprises. It was none other than designer Tom Ford himself that kept the fashion industry on its toes. Instead of selecting a look from his eponymous brand, which he retired from in 2022, he was instead dressed by Anthony Vaccarello of Saint Laurent. Speaking to Vogue on the red carpet, Ford, who had once helmed Yves Saint Laurent, called Vaccarello a “terrific designer”, a far cry from the more negative sentiments he had previously shared for Laurent.

Tom Ford and Donald Glover in Saint Laurent. Credits: Saint Laurent.
Andrew Scott and Jude Law in Versace. Credits: Versace.

Elsewhere, guests were slightly more coordinated, both in appearance and designer choices. ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ star Jude Law, for example, appeared arm-in-arm with designer Donatella Versace and Andrew Scott, the current Tom Ripley in the latest adaption of the thriller. Their pared back looks, peculiarly unusual for the typically extravagant Versace, differed from the pastels of Kieran Culkin and Ed Sheeran, who also strode the carpet with the designer of his attire, Stella McCartney.

This then once again diverged the harmonisation of the eight member K-pop group Stray Kids, who wore the signature red, white and blue palette of their invitee, Tommy Hilfiger. According to data from Dash Hudson, the group were one of the top performers on social media, coming second below Zendaya in keyword uses and taking top place in engagement across Instagram, Twitter and Youtube.

Kieran Culkin with wife Jazz Charton and Stella McCartney with Ed Sheeran. Credits: (From left) IWC and Stella McCartney.
K-pop group Stray Kids in Tommy Hilfiger. Credits: Tommy Hilfiger.
Little Simz in Burberry and Jaden Smith in Thom Browne. Credits: (From left) Burberry and Thom Browne.

Thom Browne and the avant garde

Cynthia Erivo and Rebecca Ferguson in Thom Browne. Credits: Thom Browne.

While this sense of refinement seemed to go down well in menswear, there was still a place for theatrics, as has become custom to the Met. Leading the way here was Thom Browne, who brought to the steps a sense of whimsy in the form of melodramatic designs. For Cynthia Erivo, the brand came through with a cropped tuxedo jacket and flowing skirt over which black sequins, beaded insects and pink silk moiré petals were draped. Similarly heavy beading was used for Rebecca Ferguson’s high neck gown which was cascaded in swarovski crystal florets and fanned out into a blue-lined cape. This all came to a head in Gigi Hadid’s corset dress attached to which was a tailored jacket that took the form of a bustling skirt adorned in 3D yellow roses and green vines.

Gigi Hadid in Thom Browne. Credits: Thom Browne.
Queen Latifah and Eboni Nichols in Thom Browne. Credits: Thom Browne.

A curious take on the theme was donned by model Amelia Gray Hamlin, who made her Met Gala debut in a look by Jun Takahashi’s Undercover. The brand had already taken the internet by storm following its spring 2024 collection, where the designer unveiled a transparent dome-like dress in which butterflies fluttered around under the glow of fairy lights. Now, Takahashi reintroduced the theme for Hamlin, who wore a bright yellow iteration of the original design, albeit with less live insects flitting around.

Amelia Gray in Undercover and Messika. Credits: Messika.

Hamlin wasn’t the only one to push the boundaries of dress. South African singer Tyla was another to make a head-turning Met debut, her own Balmain look seemingly formed entirely out of sand. An hourglass in hand came in place of the handbag and mirrored both the star’s own figure and the concept of time so heavily referenced in the overarching theme.

Lana del Rey was another to appear in a gown of sculptural significance, the first at the Met to be created by Alexander McQueen’s newest creative director, Sean McGirr, who looked back on the brand’s archives for a look, akin to Tyla’s, that would have fit in at the beach. This was evidenced in the use of natural hawthorn branches that formed a raised headpiece standing tall above the corseted dress. A similarly dystopian attitude was taken on by Paloma Elsesser, whose two-piece gown was unexpectedly created by H&M. Over the bubble-hem, silk taffeta skirt sat over a 3D-printed and electroformed metallic bodice in an oxidised green colouring.

South African singer and songwriter Tyla arrives for the Met Gala in Balmain. Credits: Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP
Lana Del Rey in Alexander McQueen and Paloma Elsesser in custom H&M. Credits: (From left) Alexander McQueen and H&M.

The high street takes the red carpet

Quannah Chasinghorse and Adwoa Aboah in custom H&M. Credits: H&M.

At first glance, H&M seems like an unlikely contender to have secured such a prominent place on the red carpet. Alas, the high street label has been causing a stir among fashion’s elite for years, having previously dressed some of the biggest stars from popular Met themes, including 2018’s Heavenly Bodies and 2022’s Gilded Glamour. This year was no different. The retailer once again brought another slew of models and famous figures to the Met steps, dressing its guests in pieces designed by H&M’s in-house design team who are usually responsible for the more exclusive collections.

Select pieces drew on the archives of H&M itself, including comedian Awkwafina’s custom gown that took inspiration from an archival ‘Hennes’ wedding dress, as seen in its tulip skirt silhouette. Model Quannah Chasinghorse, meanwhile, represented her homeland of Alaska, adding the state’s flower to her Cinderella-esque ballgown with a tulle crinoline underskirt.

Awkwafina and Hari Nef in custom H&M. Credits: H&M.

Another surprise participant was Gap – however, the unlikely player comes as less of a shock with the presence of the brand’s creative director Zac Posen, who has already graced the Met steps many-a-time with his own brand. For this edition, however, Posen posed alongside Oscar winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who sported a floor-sweeping denim gown that paid homage to Gap’s history in the denim world. Posen, meanwhile, opted for a made-to-measure suit from Gap’s sister brand, Banana Republic, which has already released inspired iterations to the general public.

Gap creative director Zac Posen with Da'Vine Joy Randolph wearing custom Gap. Credits: Gap.

Pastel boho babes

Greta Gerwig, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Emma Mackey attend the Met Gala in Chloé with creative director Chemena Kamali Credits: Chloé.

This “out-of-place” appearance wasn’t solely reserved for those of the high street. Luxury designers also strayed from the usual extravagance of the Met Gala to instead promote a more casual take on red carpet attire. Chloé’s latest creative director, Chemena Kamali, was another newbie to the event, and to make her debut brought along four notable actresses and directors to showcase her refreshed take on the house’s signature codes. While greeted with a warm reception at her AW24 show, the bohemian-esque looks were unexpected in the backdrop of the high fashion Met, yet with their 70’s flare, present in ruffled edges, floral lace and cape sleeves, they could still be linked to the theme of time gone by.

Cara Delevingne and FKA Twigs in Stella McCartney. Credits: Stella McCartney.

Bohemia itself, however, seemed to be somewhat of a trend for the red carpet. For the singer FKA Twigs, Stella McCartney paired a hand-embroidered co-ord of diamond-embroidered mesh hotpants and a bodice with a cascading cloak of hand-knit loops made with RAS-certified responsibly sourced alpaca yarn – sticking to the designer’s ethical and environmental core values. Comparable netting was also seen in Jodie Turner-Smith’s Burberry number, for which a tulle dress was layered under a pearl-embellished mesh gown.

Jodie Turner-Smith in Burberry. Credits: Burberry.
Michelle Williams in Chanel and Chioma Nnadi in Burberry. Credits: (From left) Chanel and Burberry.

Chanel and Dior stick to minimalist classics

Chanel also seemingly leaned into nostalgia for the ‘hippie’ era for Michelle Williams’ organza mini dress from the brand’s SS24 collection, which flared out into white tulle sleeving and a cape. The rest of the French brand’s pieces were decidedly more classic to its signatures, however. Both Gracie Abrams and Camila Morrone opted for two-piece looks, both with full texturised skirts – Abrams adorned in ecru satin bows while Morrone’s was embellished with feathers and beads.

Camila Morrone and Gracie Abrams in Chanel. Credits: Chanel.
Penelope Cruz in Chanel. Credits: Chanel.

Another label that didn’t stray from its classic codes was that of Dior. Reminiscent of archival collections, both Rosalia and Willow Smith donned looks that gave the appearance of high fashion tailoring, Rosalia’s being a bustier dress with a peplum waist that boiled over into a long train. In contrast, Elizabeth Debicki’s velvet dress was less form-fitting, yet also favoured a flowing train that cascaded onto the steps of the Met.

Rosalia and Willow Smith in Dior Haute Couture. Credits: Dior.
Elizabeth Debicki and Alexandra Daddario in Dior. Credits: Dior.

Swarovski’s couture debut

Anok Yai and creative director Giovanna Engelbert in Swarovski. Credits: Swarovski.

Dior and Chanel vastly differed from the extravagance of Swarovski, however. Continuing on the apparent path of Met Gala debuts, the event marked the first time the Austrian jewellery brand had plunged into the realm of couture gowns, having previously only provided other names with its famous crystals. Now, however, creative director Giovanna Engelbert was joined by four of the house’s muses, each garnished in hundreds of thousands of crystals in colours that reflected the house’s signature palette of green, pink, yellow, blue and white.

In a release, Engelbert said: “My vision was for our muses to embody elements of nature found in the enchanted crystalline garden and for their gowns to merge with our jewellery - they metamorphose, becoming one. I wanted to bring the same level of artistry and creativity to the looks that we bring to our jewellery and to capture nature's beauty and joyful spirit as well as the elegance and extravagance of Swarovski at this important moment for fashion and pop culture.”

Irina Shayk in Swarovski. Credits: Swarovski.
Imaan Hammam and Karlie Kloss in Swarovski. Credits: Swarovski.

An abundance of shimmer continued into Amanda Seyfried’s Prada gown, which incorporated flower appliqués over its structured skirt. Notably, Seyfried was another to advocate for sustainability on the red carpet, revealing to Vogue that she had specifically requested an eco-friendly design for her look. As such, the fabric that formed her dress was repurposed from Prada’s 2009 collection.

Amanda Seyfried in Prada and Chaumet. Credits: Chaumet.
Rita Ora and Charli XCX in Marni. Credits: Marni.

Marni also adopted circular methods for the looks of both Charli XCX and Rita Ora. XCX’s draped white gown, for example, was crafted from patchworked vintage t-shirts from the 1950s and 1970s, which were then embroidered with rhinestones and glass beading over finely visible stitches in what the brand said reflected its signature “mending”. Similarly, Ora’s design was composed of a tapestry shredded into floor-sweeping strands of Murano glass beads derived from the 1940s and 1970s combined with antique crystals.

Emerging designers secure a small but noticeable place at the Met

Ivy Getty in Connor Ives and Eiza Gonzalez in Del Core. Credits: (From left) Connor Ives and Del Core.

There wasn’t much in the way of young new designers this year, though their presence could be felt in the inclusion of both Connor Ives and Del Core in the line up. The former dressed artist Ivy Getty in a custom demi-couture gown, utilising two Qing dynasty wall tapestries that were estimated to be over 300 years old. The stole, meanwhile, was trimmed with fox fur taken from a vintage fur coat, rounding out strong references to the theme of historical and time-enduring fashion.

Daniel Del Core, on the other hand, said he wanted to create something “personal” for Eliza Gonzalez, dressing the Mexican actress in a gown that peeled out into an orchid shape through the layering of silk organza. The designer noted in a release: “I began the design by process looking at the Vanilla Orchid, which is the state flower of Mexico. I became obsessed with the fragility of its petals and imagined the opening of the blossom as a time lapse. That’s the moment I tried to capture.”

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