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Met Gala Recap: Fashion’s First Date with Tech

If you were at last night’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit (more affectionately known as the Met Gala), you’d find standing guard—well, sitting guard—somewhere along the sumptuous, 150-foot red carpet a man named André Leon Talley, Vogue contributing editor and self-proclaimed sartorial sentinel of style.

“I’m a larger-than-life fashion personage with a great deal of gravitas, having gone through five decades of fashion,” he explained to the editors of TheSkimm on the day of the event. “I’ve been through the chiffon trenches.”

It’s true he’s been a mainstay at the annual, Vogue-blessed ball each year, (who could forget his 2015 Met Gala interview when he told Rihanna she was having a moment at the exact moment she actually was), so we have no other choice but to believe him when he labeled the Met Gala “the Easter parade, the Christmas morning, the Super Bowl of fashion.” Oh and then he added this disclaimer: “Everyone who is anyone who has ever achieved anything who is remotely interesting comes to the Met Gala.” Not to make you feel bad or anything.

Even if you did want to attend, you’d be just one of many on a long, long waiting list. And if you were somehow bumped to the top of that list, individual tickets are priced at $30,000 and tables cost a cool $425,000. But wait! You win the lottery and are suddenly able to button up that Marchesa ball gown you’ve got hanging around in your closet and go. Well hey you, not so fast! Because Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, who if the fashion industry is Hogwarts serves as its all-powerful Dumbledore, must still approve your attendance. The chances of getting a warm, Wintour-welcome? Whelp, in the words of The New York Times’ Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic Vanessa Friedman: “Dream on.”

But back to living variously through words and best-dressed photo slideshows … For 2016, the theme of the event was Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, with Wintour serving as the chairwoman of the gala, also hosted by Jonathan Ive, chief design officer at Apple, Taylor Swift of The Entire Universe and actor Idris Elba, best known for his roles on The Wire, Finding Dory and Star Trek Beyond.

There were other Met Gala-ites called “honorary chairs,” which included the fashion triumvirate of Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Prada’s Miuccia Prada and Luis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière.

Of course Leon Talley was again tasked with the job of hobnobbing the haute costume-iaged (word invented for use in this article) before they were whisked inside the museum to a refuge safe from the evil tentacles of social media. (Famously, Wintour has a no-cell-phone policy at the Met Gala, although stars like Sarah Jessica Parker have publicly said they just don’t care.)

Anyway, yesterday eve on Fifth Avenue, cloaked in (what else) an oversized, black-and-gold robe, Leon Talley interviewed many of the super-famous Met Gala guests for a series of video vignettes published on Vogue.com. Most conversations contained the usual red carpet banter: Tour dates! Movie releases! Album releases! That dress! That hair! That body!

Among the answers given we find this easily missed one-liner by international supermodel Gigi Hadid on the subject of her knuckle rings: “These are probably the most technological part,” she said of the rings as accessories to her silver-sparkled outfit. “These are real chrome so they’re made out of, made by machine.”

Wait, wha?

Love Gigi but let’s get this straight: At an event focused on the fusion of fashion and tech, the most techy thing about Hadid’s ensemble was that a machine made her rings? Hold the Skinny Caramel Macchiato. Don’t machines make most of the sweaters and tees and plain, old blue jeans we wear every day? Isn’t that how the industry of mass-produced fashion works? How can this be an example of nouveau riche Fashion in an Age of Technology?

A cursory glance at the dresses worn by the Met Gala stars reveals none too many that featured actual, wearable tech. There was this pirate-inspired (OK, Hamilton the musical-inspired) get-up worn by SJP, a Grecian gown for Kate Bosworth, Lupita N’gongo’s shiny green number that was a bold nod to her African heritage and Beyoncé in err … something latex. (Hey, when you’re Beyoncé you wear what you want.)

Ah yes, that’s right. Katy Perry did accessorize her velvet and gold Prada gown with a 90s-era Tamagotchi. Claire Danes’ fiber-optic frock by Zac Posen glowed in the dark, (admittedly, hers was my favorite of the night). Then there was the belle of the ball, IBM and Marchesa’s “cognitive dress” that featured some blinking, LED lights.

Was there really not a gold-plated Apple Watch or diamond-encrusted Fitbit in sight? What about a dress that put virtual reality on display? There might have been such a garment. Who knows? If any übertech-forward products did make red carpet debuts, they sure didn’t get much press.

“The future of fashion has arrived,” Vogue wrote in their own recap of the event. Well, hm.

Part of me scoffs at a fashion-meets-tech event that is mostly fashion and virtually no tech. (Even fashion’s rebel-darling Leandra Medine of Man Reppeler described the sets for the gala as “stereotypically futuristic-looking.”) But another part of me wonders if this isn’t purposeful, a component of Wintour’s methodical plan to surreptitiously show how non-tech the fashion industry still is. She does after all, run a print magazine and even the softest of media critics declare paper publications a dying breed.

I mean, here we have high fashion’s first official date with technology, sponsored by none other than Apple Inc., and it’s sort of like the collective fashion industry decided to get the check before dinner could be served. Browsing the highest-praised outfits worn by the world’s most famous celebrities doesn’t show how prevalent technology is becoming in fashion but instead how innovative designers can be with a simple needle and thread. It’s a humbling message about technological evolution and a foreboding one, too. 

Perhaps in her way, Wintour aims to prove that while technology is predicated on the notion that digital things fade—apps and gadgets appear and disappear every day—what will never go out of fashion is fashion itself. Wintour’s world and thus Leon Talley’s en vogue, red-carpet-wrapped world as well, is one that exists apart from cell phones or snapchat filters, where we aren’t limited by the technology we connect to but merely by the boundaries of what our own brilliant human minds can create. And that’s a gala-of-the-year-sized idea worth celebrating.

[MELISSA MARNI is a Southern California-based writer and the founder of little word studio. You can follow her musings on Instagram here.]

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