Did you watch? If you are a lover of fashion—or just opulence and extra-ness, in general—no doubt you spent Monday night with your eyes trained on the step of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as, after a 17-month delay, the Met Gala resumed its regular extravagance during New York Fashion Week, live-streamed for our viewing pleasure.
The theme? “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which, as previously reported by The Root, will take place in two parts, as the country in question continues to navigate the ongoing and unfortunately evolving pandemic. Accordingly, the Met’s list of ridiculously well-heeled invitees were required to be vaccinated for the event, for which many also wore masks coordinating with their ensembles when they weren’t preening for the cameras.
But with a theme as broad as American fashion—which should ostensibly be as broad and multifaceted as America itself—who actually understood and fulfilled the assignment? Or, in the words of a surprisingly underdressed Law Roach, the “image architect” behind Zendaya’s epic Met Gala looks, among many others (sadly, Zendaya was not in attendance last night): Who did what needed to be done?
There was ample red, white and blue on the red carpet, as well as nods to the American west via denim and designs by Ralph Lauren, arguably the best-known embodiment of mainstream American luxury fashion. However, by far the most provocative style statement of the night came not from an American entertainer—or an American designer, for that matter—and admittedly, it was one our favorites. New York state Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—AOC, if you’re nasty (or in “the Squad”)—enlisted Toronto native and 2021 The Glow Up 50 honoree Aurora James, founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, to create a gown that would express her message to America: “Tax the Rich.
“The medium is the message,” AOC wrote in an Instagram post showing the design in process. “Proud to work with Aurora James as a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant designer who went from starting her dream Brother Vellies at a flea market in Brooklyn to winning the CFDA against all odds - and then work together to kick open the doors at the Met.” Notably, the duo also kicked those doors open wearing Brother Vellies shoes to match their gown, AOC’s red pair featuring “laces and bright flowers along the heel,” according to Vogue, which also noted that her Brother Vellies evening bag “also read ‘tax the rich,’ to drive the message home.”
“The time is now for childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all,” AOC added in her post. “Tax the Rich.”
“We can never get too comfortable in our seats at the table once they’ve been given,” James, also the founder of the growing retail equity movement known as 15 Percent Pledge, told Vogue. “We must always continue to push ourselves, push our colleagues, push the culture and push the country forward. Fashion is changing, America is changing. And as far as this theme goes, I think Alexandria and I are a great embodiment of the language fashion needs to consider adding to the general lexicon as we work towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and empowered future.”
While there were an ample amount of Black guests on the Met’s guest list last night, James was one of a handful of Black designers—including Christopher John Rogers, Sergio Hudson, Pyer Moss, Virgil Abloh, B. Michael, Fe Noel, Kenneth Nicholson and Jason Rembert of Aliétte—to be worn on the carpet Monday night. Indeed, despite the theme, the biggest moments still belonged to European designers—case in point: Lil Nas X’s regal three-part reveal, designed by Atelier Versace.
Rihanna may now be well-established as a designer in her own right (the shuttering of the award-winning Fenty Maison notwithstanding), but for this year’s Met appearance, the former event co-host turned to Balenciaga for a voluminous custom cape, which she paired with an artfully tipped skully and jewels by Maria Tash. Oh—and she also accessorized with a beaming A$AP Rocky, who rocked a quilt-like wrap of his own by ERL (which he quickly doffed to reveal a relaxed riff on a tux). The appearance was the visibly happy couple’s first red carpet outing together since first sparking rumors at the 2019 British Fashion Awards.
Who else stunned and stunted at this year’s Met Gala? As always, we’ve got all the Black excellence from the museum’s famed stairs below—including this year’s co-hosts, Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and tennis star Naomi Osaka. We’ll just call this slideshow “In (African) America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
You can see all the looks from the Met Gala red carpet in exclusive coverage on Vogue. com.