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Can sustainable fashion exist at the Met?

The 2022 Met Ball was a show of sustainable fashion, with guests wearing an array of up-cycled materials, vintage looks, and small-name designers. But with all the stigma burgeoning around the event, has the Met established itself as a tone-deaf distraction from fashion’s biggest sins? 

In-case you missed it, the 2022 Met Gala took place last week, returning to its annual spot on the first Monday in May since Covid-19 disrupted festivities.

This year’s theme was ‘Gilded Glamour’, the second instalment of a two-part theme celebrating American fashion. Stars donned their most extravagant looks, gracing the carpet with ruffles of taffeta and lace, boned corsets, and – in a true ode to the sartorial gems of America’s crown – the odd bit of Lycra.

As is Met tradition, debates have since erupted over who ‘won’ the event by nailing the theme. Looks combining Gilded-Age-glamour with modern silhouettes commanded the paparazzi. Cardi B wore a Versace gown entirely embellished with gold chains. The piece reportedly took over 1,300 hours to make.

Other guests chose looks inspired by classical American painters, a nod to the artistry and melancholy romance of the Gilded Age in America.

Euphoria star Maude Apatow wore a hand-made Miu Miu Bardot dress with a sweetheart neckline, coupled with pin curled hair and blood-red lip. Both Apatow and Bella Hadid, in a similar black corseted get-up, looked like muses straight out of a John Singer Sargent painting.

But the celebrity who caused the most fuss this year was Billie Eilish. The singer has been hailed as the Met’s ‘winner’, having best-nailed the theme with a satin Gucci look inspired by a painting of Madame Paul Poirson by Singer Sargent.

What most captured the hearts of Met-enthusiasts is the sustainable element of Billie’s gown. The corseted dress was complete with a bustle and corset, crafted entirely from upcycled materials.

During a livestream with Vogue, Billie stated that sustainability was a core focus of her Met look this year; ‘I just wanted to be as eco-friendly as possible’.

The 2022 Met Ball wasn’t short of other conscious fashion moments either. A number of guests opted for vintage designs, rooting through fashion’s most famous archives to recreate and reimagine one-of-a-kind looks.

Arguably the most iconic of these recycled moments was Kim Kardashian in Marylin Monroe’s Jean-Lous dress. Worn by the Hollywood icon in 1962 when she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to president John F. Kennedy, the dress caused a stir when it arrived at the Met.

Many suggested it was a piece of American movie history and should never have been removed from the temperature-controlled room in which it’s normally displayed at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Others were shocked by Kim’s strategy for fitting into the dress – which couldn’t be altered, admitting to crash-dieting to lose 16lbs in three weeks.

Regardless of the controversy caused by Monroe’s skin-tight, bejewelled dress, it was undeniably a historic moment of fashion recycling.

Actress Emma Stone took a more personal approach to a sustainable look, opting to wear her own wedding gown – a bespoke feather Louis Vuitton dress – to the Met.

And model Amber Valletta chose a pleated Azzaro look from the 1980s, sourced from an LA vintage clothing boutique by her stylist Karla Welch.

These instances of up-cycling are a welcome surprise at an event not known for its sustainable flair. The frill and flounce of the Met Gala is famous for birthing bold new costumes and bespoke gowns crafted specifically for fashion’s biggest night of the year.

But despite the conscious approach taken by many designers and stylists this year, the extravagance of the Met still falls flat – at a time when fashion’s misgivings are becoming harder to ignore.

I’d be quick to claim the post-Met memes as the highlight of the entire event. Often mocking the most avant-garde outfits of the bunch, they provide a welcome refuge from a grim newsfeed. But this year’s netizen jokes were focused largely on the empty displays of sustainable fashion at the gala.

Infamous fashion critics Diet Prada shared a slew of memes mocking big brands who opted for recycled fabrics and designs; ‘Big brands congratulating themselves for saving the planet after making one look out of old fabric for a celeb’, said one image of a woman kissing herself in the mirror.

The jokes poke fun at designer companies like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, both of whom dressed stars inn up-cycled looks this year, yet still have a long way to go in establishing ethical production practices.

Sustainability auditor ‘Good On You’ have suggested that Louis Vuitton is still ‘not good enough’ when it comes to saving the planet;

‘While [Vuitton] has set an intensity target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations, there is no evidence it is on track to meet said target. There is no evidence it minimises textile waste, and it uses few eco-friendly materials’.

Greenwashing from huge brands is hardly unfamiliar territory. But it begs the question: with fashion under increasing pressure to right its environmental wrongs, can a grossly excessive event like the Met maintain its choke-hold on pop culture?

As we become ever more attuned to the clothes we consume and the traces they leave behind, is it time we turned our backs on fashion’s ‘biggest night out’?


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