Last night the annual Met Gala was held in New York city. Each year, the Gala faces some level of natural controversy over its selected themes from queer appropriation in “Notes on Camp” to issues of cultural appropriation with “Heavenly Bodies”. This year, however, the Gala’s organisers are weathering widespread criticism for the event’s theme, “Gilded Glamour and White Tie”, facing accusation of insensitivity to the worsening inflation most Americans are dealing with.
The theme pays homage to the period of prosperity, industrialisation and growth in the US from 1870 to 1890. Ironically, we are currently experiencing the opposite with many Brits and Americans alike living on the breadline to the rise of living costs.
Last quarter, the American economy shrank for the first time since the recession that struck during the pandemic two years ago. US GDP fell by about 0.35% from January to March, or at an annualised rate of 1.4%, prompting experts to point to rising inflation, the Omicron variant and supply chain issues as factors. The rising inflation and economic contraction suggests America’s economy is at a greater risk of a downturn, especially as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to pummelled the global economy.
This brings us to another element of controversy; the MET’s turning a blind eye to the war and horrors being experienced by Ukrainian refugees and military members. The Guardian noted a Twitter user pointing out the irony of such a theme amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, writing: “Gilded glamour at a time of war, let them eat cake!”
Surely, the least the MET could do would be to donate some of the millions it raises to a movement supporting refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere. The cost for a seat at last year’s gala started at $35,000, although some guests on the highly selective guest list are invited free of charge. The event, which is the institute’s primary source of income, raised more than $16.4m last year. The money raised goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute organised by the American fashion magazine Vogue. While we support investment in culture, especially when tax money tends to favour other sectors of society in both the States and Britain, it would have seemed more appropriate to donate some of the income to support the victims of wear at a time where it is so rife. However, perhaps such a gesture would seem ironic in contrast to a theme so focused on wealth and prosperity? Bringing us back to the idea that the theme itself is the root of the problem.
Many may argue that any event centred around such a luxurious industry as high fashion would always seem tone deaf in contrast to the realities of the world. Perhaps this hedonistic theme is supposed to reflect the escapist need of the arts? However, when worn by Hollywood’s elite and multimillionaires, the need for artistic expression and escapism doesn’t seem so dire and again leans heavily into irony.