Party Coverage: Scene City: At the Met Gala, Paying Homage to Rei Kawakubo

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Party Coverage: Scene City: At the Met Gala, Paying Homage to Rei Kawakubo

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Party Coverage: Scene City

By MATTHEW SCHNEIER

She scurried up the Met Gala red carpet so quickly that if you blinked you probably missed her. She did not stand for two hours on the receiving line with some of the evening’s glittering co-hosts, among them Anna Wintour, Katy Perry and Tom Brady. And for a while, the guest of honor was quipping that she might skip the Monday night event altogether.

And yet, a little after 7 p.m., there was the Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo huddled near the entrance of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dressed in a slightly spruced-up version of her everyday outfit (her usual black leather motorcycle jacket swapped for a white one, a silver tiara perched on her trademark bob), and not only receiving the congratulations of well-wishers like Bruce Weber and the 10 Corso Como retailer Carla Sozzani, but also posing gamely for a few pictures.

Ms. Kawakubo is shy to the point of reclusive, quiet to the point of absent, and indifferent to the celebrities other designers court. Who are, naturally, just the people who came flooding into the Met for a gala opening that is New York’s biggest social night of the year and which, this time, raised more than $12 million for the Costume Institute.

Andrew Bolton, the exhibition’s curator, looked happy and relieved, not least by the good reaction from his subject. “There’s been a change over the last few days,” he said, his partner, Thom Browne, alongside. “I think she’s almost enjoying it.” He paused. “Almost.”

Meanwhile, around the serene-looking Ms. Kawakubo, guests circled the galleries wonderingly. Mr. Weber, who shot some memorable Comme des Garçons mailers in the 1980s, had brought his camera and was snapping away; Rick Owens, with his wife, Michèle Lamy, one of the few brave and chic enough to wear Comme, were looking around in awe. Ms. Kawakubo’s creations are not for the faint of heart.

“I wear it so conservatively,” said Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, the creative director and longtime Comme collaborator, who was wearing a large dress from Ms. Kawakubo’s “Invisible Clothes” collection, crowned with a headband studded with spikes. It, too, was by Ms. Kawakubo. For men.

The others who did — including Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, Stella Tennant, Anna Cleveland and Caroline Kennedy — looked marvelous. Ms. Ross, in a high-collared floral Comme des Garçons coatdress, said she had been a fan for years.

“It’s the merging of art and fashion in a way that pushed the boundaries,” she said. “It’s just everything to me. And I can do this!” She ducked her head into the high collar of her coat, like a glamorous turtle in retreat. “I think I did it on the red carpet.”

Mindy Kaling, who was working her way through the exhibition with Gary Ross, her director on “Ocean’s Eight,” said she was also a fan, “although I must say I feel only bold enough to wear separates and perfume and accessories.” She is also the veteran of previous Met Galas, real and fictionalized. The gala is featured in “Ocean’s Eight,” and the cast spent 10 days filming at the museum.

“I staged my own,” Mr. Ross said. “Now I’m seeing theirs as a civilian. I find it much more relaxing to be a civilian than have to direct. It’s fun to be here.”

Part of the fun is the people-watching, which is heady. Once upon a time, the Met Gala was a smaller, more socialite-driven event (“You look even lovelier than when you first came,” a courtly older gentleman told Carolina Herrera, the designer and perennial social fixture), but now, free-range stars mingle and kibitz. Laura Dern, dressed by and on the arm of the designer Gabriela Hearst, was about to weigh in on the exhibition when she was interrupted by her “Big Little Lies” co-star, Alexander Skarsgard, who played a villainous husband of Monterey, Calif., in the mini-series.

“Look at this lovely man!” Ms. Dern exclaimed. “Now everybody’s scared of him.”

Mr. Skarsgard said: “I’ve been in the woods for two months and I got back two days ago. I haven’t even seen the show. I got back and people are like, ‘Ooh … no.” He laughed. “So I’ll never work again. But we had a good time.”

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Downstairs, in the Petrie sculpture court, where cocktails were served, the celebrity swell was growing. Here and there were a few CDG touches, like the “Live Free Die Strong Comme des Garçons” jacket that the Oscar de la Renta and Monse designer Laura Kim had over her dress, or the Comme des Garçons Play heart logo patch that Ms. Kim had removed from one of her T-shirts and stitched on to her co-designer Fernando Garcia’s tuxedo. (“I’m going to put it back tomorrow,” she said.) With them was Zoë Kravitz, in a blush-pink Oscar de la Renta gown with a bodice of real, preserved roses. She wasn’t wearing Comme, but she still had one of the night’s savviest reviews: Comme is “so modern and feminine and weird,” she said. “Exactly what fashion should be.”

Serena Williams, pregnant and glowing in a green gown by Atelier Versace (“I feel good,” she said), was catching up with her old friend Vera Wang. Were they Comme fans? “I’ve actually never worked with them,” Ms. Williams said. “But I love their stuff. It’s so forward, so fashion. It’s something you’re really inspired by.”

Ms. Wang is not only an admirer; “I’m a client, too!” she said. “That’s even better. Fully participating, all the way. For a long time, too.”

But as the throng grew denser, most guests seemed blithely unaware of Ms. Kawakubo and her small retinue in a corner, just as she would probably prefer. Selena Gomez and Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. the Weeknd) were holding hands by the bar. Eddie Redmayne was deep in conversation with a Dior-beret-topped Isabelle Huppert. Trevor Noah and Hasan Minhaj, the latter fresh from the White House Correspondents’ dinner, were chatting up Aziz Ansari and Judd Apatow; Stephen Colbert made a dash past the crowd up a side colonnade.

A drummer sounded the call for dinner, but with the highest-profile attendees (Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Madonna) still outside on the red carpet, the procession moved slowly. All the better opportunity for a few straggling fans whose tickets were cocktail-only to take in the sight of Roger Federer, the tennis champion and longtime favorite of Ms. Wintour’s, in a Gucci tuxedo whose jacket back was elaborately bedazzled with a rearing cobra. He was perfectly game to pose for photos. “I’m happy,” he said. “Someone is taking a photo of the back for a change.”

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