When the Met Gala returns in May, so will more recognition of Black creatives

The second installment of the Costume Institute's 'In America: An Anthology of Fashion' features Janicza Bravo, Julie Dash, Regina King, Ann Lowe, and more.

With the SAG Awards swiftly approaching and ceremonies celebrating the Independent Spirit, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and Oscars all scheduled before April dawns, it’s safe to say awards season is already in full swing. But, on the first Monday in May, yet another of Hollywood’s favorite annual red carpet events returns as the Met Gala once again takes over the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2.

A design by Ann Lowe in The Met’s Costume Institute.
Photo: Cindy Ord/GettyImages

The event will preview the second half of the museum’s Costume Institute exhibit “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” the first of which debuted last September with Amanda Gorman and Naomi Osaka among its young co-hosts. In addition to hosting its second red carpet event within the space of a year, the second half of the American Wing’s yearlong exhibition will reportedly feature “cinematic vignettes” from eight American film directors, according to Women’s Wear Daily (WWD).

Utilizing the museum’s Period Rooms, a series of approximately 100 garments will be staged on era-specific sets, the exhibit, which opens May 7, will also feature “unfamiliar sartorial narratives,” as Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, told WWD. Among them will be fashion designer, film director, and Council of Fashion Designers of America’s chairman Tom Ford, who has chosen “John Vanderlyn’s panoramic 1819 mural of Versailles to showcase a reenactment of ‘The Battle of Versailles.'”

For those unfamiliar, that famed “battle” was actually the 1973 fashion face-off between French and American designers which also memorably showcased a number of iconic Black models in addition to pioneering Black designer Stephen Burrows. As described by WWD, Burrows will be among more Black visionaries will be included in The Met’s new display, including filmmakers Janicza Bravo, Julie Dash, and Regina King, as well as largely unsung designers Fannie Criss Payne, and Ann Lowe, who famously designed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy‘s wedding gown.

From WWD:

The directors’ mise-en-scènes will also consider how the role of dress shapes the diverse nature of American identities. Along with Scorsese, the directors will include Sofia Coppola of “Lost in Translation”; Janicza Bravo of “Zola”; Julie Dash of “The Rosa Parks Story”; Chloé Zhao of “Nomadland”; Autumn de Wilde, and actress and director Regina King. While Coppola will be working in the McKim, Mead and White Stair Hall and Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, Zhao’s vignette will unwind in a Shaker retiring room from the 1830s and King’s will unfold in a 19th-century parlor from Richmond, Va…

The designer lineup will include the well-known like Bill Blass, Halston, Claire McCardell, Stephen Burrows, Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Norman Norrell, and the far less-heralded Ann Lowe, Fannie Criss Payne, Franziska Noll Gross and Jessie Franklin Turner, among others. Lowe was an African American designer who worked with high society clients like the Rockefellers and Roosevelts from the ’20s through the ’60s. She created the portrait-neckline wedding gown — reportedly made of 50 yards of silk taffeta — that Jacqueline Bouvier wore to exchange vows with then-Sen. John Kennedy in 1953.

Credit: WWD

“It’s a way of making fashion history more nuanced for sure,” Bolton explained to WWD of the decidedly diverse perspectives represented this round. “And it is one that will expand upon the monolithic interpretation of American fashion history to include designers who may not have been as successful as others, but had an impact in a short span of time,” he added.

Also included in the exhibit will be items from Brooks Brothers, a label that found its early success in producing clothing for enslaved people. In The Met’s exhibit, this will be reflected in the form of “livery dating back to 1857 to 1865 that was worn by an unidentified enslaved man,” reports WWD.

But is this nod to yet another complicated American history and its uncelebrated design talents meant to indicate the diversity and inclusion so many in the fashion industry have long been demanding?

Asked what the upcoming show says about The Met’s efforts to improve diversity, Bolton told WWD the museum has made “huge inroads” with its DEI initiatives, but there is more work to be done. “This certainly is something that we are very much conscious of and was, when we were developing the exhibition. It is something that we have been doing — both the Costume Institute and American Wing curators — have been doing for quite some time, trying to tell these untold or unfinished stories.”

Credit: WWD

TheGrio will be covering The Met Gala’s red carpet when the event takes place on May 2.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in the fashion and entertainment industries, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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