Arts and Entertainment

Met Gala 2024: How the “Garden of Time” Wilted

The ambiguity of the 2024 Met Gala’s theme left the door wide open for interpretation, yet the red carpet has never looked more basic.

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Social media exploded with photos of the 2024 Met Gala’s attendees, consisting of celebrities, influencers, musicians, and actors wearing designer floral outfits on May 6. This year’s dress code was “The Garden of Time,” celebrating the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s exhibit “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” by reflecting the exhibit’s themes of nature and chronology. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and influential fashion icon, chose Zendaya, Bad Bunny, Jennifer Lopez, and Chris Hemsworth as her co-chairs in February, bestowing them with the responsibility of executing this coveted event. While fans around the world expected provocative and extravagant outfits reflective of the event’s abstract theme, this year’s red carpet left promises unfulfilled—the celebrities’ outfits seemed catered more toward social media clicks than adherence to the event and its principles. 

Initially, “The Garden of Time” seems like a pretentious allusion to the intersection of history and nature, but Wintour’s intent behind the dress code was far more nuanced. The theme references the short story “The Garden of Time” by J.G. Ballard. It describes a married couple who use a magical garden to repel a mob attack. With every flower they cut, time is turned back. The two use the garden to delay the mob until they reach the last flower, at which point the couple accepts their fate, serving as a metaphor for the everlasting loop of creation and destruction. 

This ties back to the “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” exhibit, as all the pieces in this collection have been weakened by time and are too delicate to be worn again. However, they can still be admired for their beauty and past use. The exhibit is a commentary on modern-day fast fashion, where the time between buying clothes and throwing them away becomes shorter with every trend. The majority of the works take inspiration from the natural world and are permeated with floral patterns. The theme’s broadness gave room for countless interpretations, eliciting anticipation for a magically diverse red carpet. However, due to the theme’s complexity, many celebrities simply chose not to interpret it and barely embodied the theme in their outfits.

While many designs resembled the theme in some way, they lacked the trademark originality that made the Met Gala so influential in the past. Most of the guests took the dress code as a simple invitation to wear all things floral, walking the carpet in outfits that have been featured at several previous galas with the uninspired addition of basic nature prints. One of the biggest sore thumbs was Alexandra Michler Kopelman’s dress, a strapless Emilia Wickstead gown covered in brightly colored roses. The odd combination of the dress’s wallpaper-esque print, a mismatched black beaded necklace, and bland hair and makeup made this look one of the night’s worst, demonstrating no respect for the creativity the theme called for. Jeff Goldblum’s outfit presented similar issues—a classic Prada tuxedo jacket accessorized with golden glasses, white gloves, and a woven shawl. His only acknowledgement of the dress code was three small Tiffany brooches, depicting a bird and two flowers with diamonds and pearls. Most of the celebrities at the gala tried to find ways to adjust their interpretation of the theme to fit their pre-set outfits rather than dressing for the theme itself. 

As seen at every Met Gala, some celebrities completely ignored the dress code. Media personalities like Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner wore outfits that had no connection to the theme, clearly viewing the Gala more as a photo-op than an honorable fundraiser. Similar problems were seen with Michael Shannon, who walked the carpet in a simple black suit and a $1,850 Balenciaga potato chip handbag. These mass-produced garments were especially disheartening given the messaging of the “Sleeping Beauty” exhibit, a collection that promotes preservation and originality.

The morning before the gala, Wintour publicly apologized for the confusion over the theme, admitting the phrasing of the dress code lacked clarity. Admittedly, the title “The Garden of Time” requires substantially more analysis than past years’ themes. However, even amidst the confusion, standouts like R&B singer Tyla rose to the challenge “The Garden of Time” posed, starkly contrasting with those who only took surface-level inspiration. Tyla wore a Balmain gown sculpted entirely from sand accessorized with an hourglass purse, alluding to the “sands of time.” Due to the rigid structure of the dress, Tyla had difficulty moving across the floor and had to be carried up the stairs; a struggle emblematic of her unmatched commitment and dedication to the event’s themes throughout the night.

The lack of dedication to the theme this year may have been caused by the increased emphasis on social media fashion trends. Notably, this year’s gala included influencers on the guest list, many of whom wore outfits that conformed to current trends instead of reflecting the dress code. In addition, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was an honorary chair of this year’s gala. The TikTok sponsorship is exceedingly disappointing, completely betraying the introspective and anti-consumerist ideas that the Sleeping Beauties exhibit epitomizes. On a larger scale, the gala’s social media sponsorship simply doesn’t uphold the values of art that make the Metropolitan Museum of Art such a renowned institution. Instead of encouraging celebrities to use their platform as a medium of creative expression, the Met Gala seems primarily focused on creating “buzz,” having cultivated an elitist environment with a guest list based on name recognition alone. This strategy might be effective for fundraising, but it implies that the Met cares more about the monetary value the gala brings than the costume exhibits the event is intended to fund.