The Met Gala’s ivory-colored carpet was filled with fashion statements on Monday night—while just outside its velvet ropes on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, a protest was waged to defund the police. Predictably, arrests were made, as cries of “Black Lives Matter” maybe, just maybe reached the ears of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who was inside the event as one of the evening’s guests (as were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York state Representative Carolyn Maloney, both of whom showed up to the festivities in politically-themed regalia.)
As noted by our sister site, Jezebel: “In a way, it is all too fitting that police would be brutally arresting Black protesters outside a fashion event whose theme was, in essence, ‘America.’ The same is true of the fact that the politician who might be able to deliver on protesters’ demands would be inside, among the city’s elite, getting his picture taken.”
Much has been made of de Blasio’s attendance—and even more of Ocasio-Cortez’s gown, emblazoned with the phrase “Tax the Rich.” However, another of the evening’s sartorial statements on America was largely overlooked; stage and screen actor Jeremy Pope’s all-white ensemble was a tribute to the legacy of enslaved and exploited African Americans and the ever-lucrative cultivation of cotton on the country’s soil—the foundation of the same fashion industry being celebrated on Monday night.
“They planted seeds of beauty, tended to fields with unspeakable strength, [and] harvested a kind of excellence that would outlive them for centuries,” the Tony and Emmy-nominated entertainer wrote on Twitter, explaining the garment. “So that we could one day stand up, stretch toward the sun, [and] tell their story.”
Pope accompanied the tweet with a photo of himself in the outfit, upon which Danny Lyon’s evocative 1960's black-and-white photograph “The Cotton Pickers” was projected, depicting white-clad Black workers picking cotton on a prison farm in the Jim Ferguson unit in Midway, Texas. Pope was also in all white, his ensemble featuring ankle-gathered pants and an off-the-shoulder, corseted top—the latter a nod to the bodices of the antebellum age. Slung across his body was an oversized cotton sack, creating a train long enough to compete with any of the evening’s extravagant gowns (of which there were plenty).
Pope partnered with Australian designer Dion Lee on the garment design, while James Flemons of Phlemuns created the exaggerated cotton broadcloth sack. A cotton bud boutonniere by Denim Tears completed the outfit, as well as giving a hint to its deeper meaning. Pope also brought the vision to life in a visual presentation for the gala, accompanied by several dancers from Alvin Ailey, also all in white.
“In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Many have poked fun at the Met Gala’s seemingly ambiguous theme for
2020 2021-2022—though it was undoubtedly intentionally so. Arguably, the events of the past 18 months made interpreting the theme that much more compelling. Along with Pope’s imagery, the dynamics on display both inside and outside the Met during Monday night’s already controversial event remain a poignant reminder: there have always been two Americas.