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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Owens

Should We Let Sleeping Beauties Lie?

What do we even want from the Met Gala?


L-R: Emma Chamberlain in Gaultier; John Galliano and Kim Kardashian in Margiela; Zendaya in Margiela

In recent years, the annual Met Gala has evolved from a semi-private, “cocktail gowns and dinner jackets” type of fundraising event into the full-throttle, hedonistic parade of Bread and Circuses that it is today. The bar for what qualifies as a “good look” climbs higher and higher each year, with internet critics lambasting gowns that would’ve otherwise made Red Carpet Best Dressed lists if it weren’t for that pesky “theme.”

This year repeated that same pattern, with one big curveball — a double theme. Now, the overwhelming majority of guests adhered to the “Garden of Time” dress code ( I mean… a beautiful floral gown? What’s easier than that?). This produced a mixed bag of some incredibly compelling and boring looks. 

Elle Fanning’s crystalline dove Balmain gown, Taylor Russel’s wooden Loewe corset, and Tyla’s “Sands of Time'' ensemble (also by Balmain) are among the most compelling. Whereas Emrata’s silver Donatella VERSACE💜 “naked dress”, La La Anthony’s rosie mermaid McQueen number, and (although it pains me to say this) Ayo Edebiri’s Loewe floral halter neck gown are among the most boring. 

The looks that really shined were the ones that referenced the actual Met Exhibit’s theme, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” Obviously, Zendaya’s double punch of a custom Margiela fantasy (that referenced Dior SS99), Philip Treacy for McQueen SS07 hat, and Galliano for Givenchy SS96 encore look stole the show, but Nicole Kidman’s recreation of a 1951 Cristobal Balenciaga gown and Isabelle Huppert’s 1930 Callot Soeurs Mermaid Bride replica captured the true spirit of the exhibit: reviving long-forgotten gems of fashion history.  

Nicole Kidman in Balenciaga

Since 2019, Anna Wintour has campaigned for increasing sustainability in the fashion world. In an interview with Reuters, Wintour said there needs to be “...more attention on craft, on creativity, and less on the idea of clothes that are instantly disposable.” 

Now, she and Andrew Bolton have organized an exhibit that calls for the reawakening of vintage clothing. This solicits an interesting debate, originally discussed heavily during the 2022 Met Gala: should celebrities be re-wearing archival garments?  

Now, if you’re Kim K trying to wear a Marilyn Monroe nude illusion dress, the Internet will unanimously scream “No!” However, I would argue that modified archival pulls should be the industry standard for red carpet dressing.

Because, truthfully, these looks only exist to us as photographs. The actual garments lay dormant in cold, windowless archives — most likely never to be worn (or even seen) again. It’s a great tragedy that most couture pieces get one glittering moment of life on the runway, then sit in climate-controlled storage until the fabrics have rotted and degraded beyond all wearability. In an ideal world, the gowns would be worn and re-worn in their original states, with no tailoring. However, as we all very well know, for the majority of fashion history, runway samples were made impossibly small. So, that brings us to our next question: should only the Kendall Jenner’s of the world be able to wear archival Givenchy by McQueen? Of course not.

This is not to say that couture is an inalienable right — I can already hear the fashion historians rattling my cage over this — I just believe it is better to have a storied garment that’s existed in many forms over the years than a massive heap of “iconic treasures” that eventually fade into the ether.

Model Kendall Jenner attracted criticism for wearing a never-been-worn Givenchy by Alexander McQueen piece.

And while it’s great to see new recreations of looks from runways past (I know I was giggling and kicking my feet watching Emma Chamberlain walk the red carpet in Jean Paul Gaultier’s redesign of his Fall 2003 Couture lace bodysuit!), it would be more impressive to see the actual corseted bodysuit utilized within the design — reused, recycled, reimagined.

However, I’m not convinced we’ll see this development anytime soon. Archival pulls are seen as a major status symbol — the referenced runway is often judged in tandem with the star power of the celebrity wearing the look and the environment it’s placed in. Mere access to the archives is seen as an incredible power that is subsequently wasted by being boring.

Now, I’m not here to argue that that perspective is wrong. Fashion is art, after all — and art is intrinsically linked to the circumstances of the world around it. But we have to live in reality a little bit, too. We can’t keep churning out these behemoth gowns with thousands of yards of fabric just to say we did it. We have to start thinking about sustainability as a creative practice — not just a marketing buzzword — before it’s too late. 🌀


Kaitlin Owens is a vintage fashion writer, movie buff, lover of good eats, and a women’s size 7.5 (if any shoe brands are reading). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Dilettante Magazine. You can find her on socials @magdilettante.


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