The best Met Gala looks and the messy legacy of Karl Lagerfeld
BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:
You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse, and I am so sorry to all of you who don't treat the first Monday in May as a national holiday - the day we all judge the best and worst in fashion from the comfort of our beds. I'm talking, of course, about the Met Gala, whose theme this year was Karl Lagerfeld, the late controversial fashion designer who led the House of Chanel for years.
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LUSE: If you've somehow escaped the Getty Image red carpet photos of Rihanna or Doja Cat or Jared Leto, honestly, kudos to you. The Met looks are inescapable. And my next guest, Marjon Carlos, a fashion journalist and former Vogue writer, stayed up way too late at a Met Gala afterparty getting the tea for me.
MARJON CARLOS: It was fun. It was really, really fun. I was like, I cannot be this lit on a Monday.
CARLOS: But all the girls were there. They were...
LUSE: Ooh, when you say, the girls - like, we got to give the people specificity.
CARLOS: I saw Kendall Jenner, I saw Kylie, I saw Bad Bunny, I saw SZA. I don't know if Rihanna was there because I did leave at 2 a.m. so I don't know if she came after I left or she went to another party, but it was packed.
LUSE: So let's get into it because we didn't have you out here leaving a party early and possibly missing Rihanna to not get to what we need to get to. What are your most memorable moments from the Met Gala?
CARLOS: You know, I believe that Anne Hathaway and Rihanna were, like, the winners of last night. And people can fight me, you know. I felt like they stole the show. I felt like they imbued the essence of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld. And they also had - they sold it to us. Those two really stood out as the winners. But there were also a lot of other incredible moments - Doja Cat.
LUSE: Yes. Doja Cat had full feline cat face, like, prosthetics while wearing this beautiful, like, sparkle-encrusted white floor-length gown...
LUSE: ...That also had a matching headpiece that kind of had little cat ears that reminded me of the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman cat sort of headpiece.
LUSE: It was like a beautiful sparkling helmet that just perfectly framed...
CARLOS: I love that.
LUSE: ...This cat face. To me, that was, like, an obvious call-out to Karl Lagerfeld's beloved cat Choupette.
LUSE: (Laughter) Yeah, like...
CARLOS: It was. And I love the way that you described it. I definitely feel like it was, like, this Catwoman helmet. And, you know, I liked that. I liked that there was camp on the red carpet. It wasn't so serious. Because a lot of people - I feel like they're so concentrated on being tasteful that they don't have fun. And...
CARLOS: ...I appreciated the camp of it all.
LUSE: I think when I think about my favorite looks - like, I loved Anne Hathaway's dress. She wore this beautiful Versace gown that also recalled a lot of elements of the House of Chanel, also recalled a lot of the ways that Karl Lagerfeld would remix a lot of the house elements of Chanel, such as the chains and the camellia flowers and all of the white, but it had a very, like, '90s - and tweed, of course. Yes.
LUSE: And it had a very early to mid-'90s Versace cut-out...
LUSE: ...Kind of, like, laced-up exposing skin kind of moment. Also, I think a lot of people saw Cardi B.'s outfit...
LUSE: ...Which was Thom Browne - this huge, voluminous - like, it almost - it was, like, very shiny, lots of black camellias. She had, like, this sort of gray - this big grayish-white wig that kind of recalled Karl's, like, sort of, like, powdered white ponytail. I felt like a lot of the best looks of the night - even from the men as well, like Harvey Guillen...
LUSE: ...And Taika Waititi, Brian Tyree Henry, Bad Bunny - also kind of went for it with the fun, the daring, the sort of more cartoony elements of interpreting a lot of Karl Lagerfeld's work.
CARLOS: Yeah, absolutely.
LUSE: I still felt like a lot of people played it safe, but I feel like the people that really went for it, I feel like it most frequently paid off last night, and I was really into that.
CARLOS: I think so, too. I mean, Karl Lagerfeld had a lot of signifiers, so it gave a lot of people room to play. And I think the men were probably very excited about that opportunity, right? I mean, normally they're just - they come in black tuxes, and they go home.
LUSE: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
CARLOS: I mean, I saw Alton Mason did a moment with lace boots and, you know...
LUSE: And a full white lacy outfit. Like, he embodied the bride, like...
LUSE: ...At the end of a couture show, there's typically always some sort of white outfit that's changed over the years. It used to traditionally be a white wedding gown, thought of as, like, the bride look.
LUSE: And Alton Mason, who is an incredibly statuesque and graceful model - he was, like, the perfect mannequin for this...
LUSE: ...White lace head-to-toe bridal look. It was incredible.
CARLOS: It looked like it was a jumpsuit and there was, like, a corsetry and then these beautiful boots. And it was a fantasy.
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LUSE: I agree with Marjon. There are winners and losers at the Met Gala, and I'm declaring the night's winners as Doja Cat, Teyana Taylor and Cardi B. Jared Leto, I'm sorry, but if you're listening, you lost. I dare you to at me. Coming up, we're getting deeper into this year's theme for the Met Gala - Karl Lagerfeld and his, um, complicated legacy - and playing a special Met Gala game I'm calling Show Me The Receipts. We'll be right back.
So the whole theme of the Met Gala this year was about Karl Lagerfeld - an interesting selection for the theme. But before we get into, you know, a lot of the breathtaking design, as well as the not-so-cute elements of Karl's legacy, first, what do you think of him?
CARLOS: I mean, when I was looking at the archival imagery of him from, like, those early '90s fashion shoots that he was doing for American Vogue, he really created such an aesthetic. And, I mean, in a lot of ways, he was, like, a young savant in the design world 'cause he came up very young and he did a lot very quickly. There's also - you know, he always had a fan. He had signifiers. I think he understood, like, if you're...
CARLOS: ...A fashion person, there's, like, your tells - right? - or uniform that you wear, kind of like armor, in a way. And he created his own world. I think that's what a lot of fashion people do. They create their own worlds. They live in it, and that's how they kind of survive.
LUSE: Yeah, very effectively. I mean, I think about another one of my favorite looks from last night, Teyana Taylor's look in Thom Browne was phenomenal. I think what made her look work so well is not only did it suit her perfectly...
LUSE: ...But it also featured so much Karl Lagerfeld iconography.
LUSE: I think of Karl Lagerfeld as somebody who had so many different points of iconography because you could see a silhouette just referencing him and immediately know who...
LUSE: ...It is. The little ponytail, which Teyana Taylor had the perfect little kind of, like, tiny, little, like, four-inch...
LUSE: ...Little hang-time ponytail in the back. She had the sunglasses, which he always was wearing.
CARLOS: If you're going to be a legendary designer, I think that you need to have some visual marking and signatures like that that people can recognize a mile away. That's what makes you last.
LUSE: I mean, he also had that not just for himself, though. He also had those visual signifiers for his clothing. I wonder, is there any style - because, you know, we got to give people something to visualize - is there any style that people might be wearing now that we can credit to Karl Lagerfeld?
CARLOS: We have to give it up to the pearls. Men are wearing pearls with a vengeance now (laughter). And I think that that is such a signature Karl move.
LUSE: Pearls are associated with, like, Coco Chanel, who started the House of Chanel. Also somebody with a very not so cute legacy, despite how people think about the clothes. Her Nazi past is...
LUSE: ...Something that's been discussed more in recent years. But the pearls that are so often associated with Chanel originally sort of come from her as, like, a favorite. And they are - it's a part of sort of, like, the house code that Karl Lagerfeld and any Chanel designer had to follow as being, like, the creative director of that brand. But I 100% agree with you. His interpretation of that house code created this different visual lexicon for how people incorporate pearls into an outfit. That is something that feels particular to Karl Lagerfeld himself as opposed to something that is only a Chanel type of thing.
LUSE: You know, we've been gesturing at this thus far in our conversation, but to really jump into it, Karl Lagerfeld is also a figure very worthy of critique.
LUSE: He had some very controversial thoughts. He shared, you know, his thoughts about fatphobia...
LUSE: ...Saying that nobody wants to see curvy women...
LUSE: ...Homophobia at times, racism, he's made disparaging remarks about the #MeToo movement and also against immigrants, even, you know, in his later years - I'm talking, like, as recently as possibly 2017 - you know, misogynistic remarks. I mean, in some ways, he was a very hyperbolic speaker. And, like, even - I mean, I'd be lying if I said that I don't chuckle from time to time when I read some of his remarks about disliking children and short men.
CARLOS: You're like, same.
LUSE: Implying that short men, like, feel bad about being short and so they kind of want to take it out on everybody. I think he said, actually, like, they hate it about themselves, and they want to kill you. Like, that is hyperbole. But also, I mean, there's a lot of really messed up things that he said over the years. I can appreciate his craft, but I feel like you also have to look at the uglier parts of his legacy, as well.
CARLOS: Absolutely. And I definitely remember his fatphobia being a major point of concern at one point. And he himself battled weight. I think his opinions around fatphobia, around who should be represented on the runways - it's outdated. And so many people in the fashion industry think like that. And I think it's unfortunately reflective of a very, very ugly side of the industry, you know?
LUSE: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I felt like there was not a lot of critique of Karl. I mean, I'll say this, I watched the Vogue red carpet coverage...
LUSE: ...Right? - which is, you know, livestreamed on YouTube. And so I can't say that I necessarily expected that. I was disappointed to see this really distinguished publication, Vogue, not want to embrace all of the legacy and...
LUSE: ...To be able to kind of look at it with fresh eyes. That was something that felt kind of surprising to me, is fashion and history are both topics that invite and require a lot of conversation - stimulating conversation. And I felt like...
LUSE: ...Having Karl Lagerfeld as the theme was a good opportunity to do that. But I just didn't see that being engaged in the online video broadcast commentary that I saw. But I wonder, did you see any sort of critique around? And if you did or did not, what did you think about that?
CARLOS: I didn't see as much critique. I agree with you. It was more like an homage. I will say that, you know, Vogue has an interesting approach to critique. I don't think that they're in the business of critique. If they don't like something, they don't talk about it. So I was not surprised that there was no, like, oh, well, we should have this critical conversation around his body dysmorphia and his views on women's bodies and weight and racism and homophobia. I'm not surprised by that.
LUSE: We noticed when we were preparing for this conversation that Monday morning, Anna Wintour's on "CBS Morning News." And she said, you know, obviously Karl was a complicated man, and I think Andrew's decision - meaning Andrew Bolton, who's curating this exhibition - Andrew's decision was really to focus on the work. And it's not a biography. There are documentaries and books that cover all sides of Karl's life. We are really focusing on his work, she said. But, you know, to your point, all of these other aspects of Karl's life and his worldview informed how the work was produced...
LUSE: ...And what the work was meant to celebrate and highlight. And I feel like you kind of can't pull those things apart. That's my opinion.
CARLOS: I feel like it's business as usual at that publication.
LUSE: Business as usual. I wonder, what is being said to us in him being honored in that way? What is being said to us as consumers or even just, like, a fashion-appreciating audience?
CARLOS: I guess it's asking the viewer to compartmentalize, right? Like, you have to, like, put this person over here for now and put your feelings aside and just look at the body of work. That's a bit exhausting, especially for critical minds who are like, hey, this is really beautiful, but I also would like to talk about how he engaged with the world because his worldview is obviously put into the collections. And if I'm at odds with that, at times, it makes me feel awkward when I'm engaging with the work, even honoring the work by going to see it at the exhibit. I know that at that publication, there's also a very strong ethos of, like, where is the fashion? And I think - and it's asked of you all the time of, like, as writers or editors, like, where is the fashion?
LUSE: Because you were a senior writer at Vogue.
CARLOS: Yes. I worked there and, you know, was constantly asked of, like, where is the fashion? And I really had to balance between being political and just looking at clothes objectively - right? - and taking my identity out of it. I've never really been able to do that. I mean, I can, in, like, a very concrete way, be like, that is a pleated skirt, you know?
CARLOS: Like, I can look at fashion in that way. But I also am just like, hmm, this is like really interesting that this collection is coming about at - during this time, and we're seeing this trend in the industry. I definitely question constantly how the work is being made and under what context. But I think that an ethos at that publication is just, like, where is the fashion? And they try to sweep everything else underneath the rug, so to speak.
LUSE: I mean, also, too, I mean, it's also a publication that, like - when I think about, like, how different, say, like, you know, I think about, like, Robin Givhan at Washington Post or even Rachel Tashjian, who's also now at The Washington Post, or someone like a Teri Agins, who was, I believe, at The Wall Street Journal for a long time, when you think about those sorts of fashion journalists, Washington Post is not dependent, Wall Street Journal's not dependent on getting advertising dollars from the same brands that they're critiquing. I think about Cathy Horan, you know, who was the...
LUSE: ...The fashion editor at The New York Times for a long time. She could kind of - she got disinvited from Marc Jacobs...
CARLOS: Yeah. She did. They were like, we don't want you there.
LUSE: She bemoaned and remarked upon the fact that his show started very late, and so she had her invitation revoked after that. It seems like those editors and writers might also have, like - there's a different editorial tack from a newspaper as opposed to, like, a fashion publication that also has this complicated relationship with brands and that they need that advertising money to continue forward.
CARLOS: Absolutely. I mean, I'd say American Vogue is very commercial in that respect, and it acts as a retailer. And to have very outspoken or progressive views may affect those relationships.
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LUSE: Coming up, Marjon and I are playing a special game in honor of fashion's biggest night that I'm calling Show Me The Receipts. We'll be right back.
OK. So today, in honor of the Met Gala, we are going to test Marjon's knowledge on price tags in a game that we are calling Show Me The Receipts.
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WHITNEY HOUSTON: I want to see the receipts.
CARLOS: I am a toxic shopper, so I might be really good at this.
LUSE: All right. All right. So this game is loosely based on one of the games from "The Price Is Right."
LUSE: And how it works is I'm going to present you with two things that you could buy, and you have to guess which one is more expensive.
LUSE: One of the examples will be Met Gala themed, and the other will be an extravagant thing that our producer, Corey Antonio, found. Does that make sense?
LUSE: All righty. Let's go. OK. First up, the cost of a ticket to the Met Gala this year, 2023, or the cost of a new 2023 Cadillac sedan.
CARLOS: Oh, the ticket to the Met Gala is more expensive.
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LUSE: Ding, ding, ding. You were right. You were right. I don't know if, like, buying Cadillacs is a part of your toxic shopping habits, but, yes, the cost of a Met Gala ticket is reportedly $50,000, and the cost of a Cadillac sedan, 2023, retails at what now feels like a steal, $39,295. The ticket is more expensive.
CARLOS: That's crazy. The tables are - they're out of control.
LUSE: Ooh. Ooh, ooh, ooh.
CARLOS: That's why a lot of people have to be sponsored. I mean, it's a whole thing. I mean, these brands get together, and they buy these tables that are hundreds of thousands of dollars.
LUSE: So next up, the cost of one night in the Carlyle Hotel, the hotel where many celebrities use to get ready - it is a famous five-star hotel in New York City - I, myself, personally have never stayed there, but I'm open to it - or dinner for two at one of San Francisco's fanciest restaurants, Atelier Crenn, named for Dominique Crenn. For context, it has a Michelin star. And there was an episode of "Chef's Table" made about the place/chef.
CARLOS: A night's stay at the Carlyle probably starts around 8 to $900. And then dinner for two probably would be, like, 500, not including alcohol. So I'm going to go with the dinner.
LUSE: This one you didn't get.
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LUSE: We found rooms starting from $1,300...
LUSE: ...Which seems to be the standard...
LUSE: ...To the premier suite for $9,000. Whereas a fixed tasting menu at Atelier Crenn is $475 a person. So the hotel is technically more, but I'd say they're pretty close.
CARLOS: It's around there, right? Like, that's kind of where the five-star hotel starts. I'm not acting like I can afford this.
CARLOS: I just know these things cause I'm a toxic shopper. Like, I'm like, hmm. I'd love to go there.
LUSE: You're like those people on "The Price Is Right" who, like, know the price of Tropicana orange juice down to the cent because you're like, I'm in the grocery store all the time, like... (laughter).
CARLOS: I'm literally online, constantly looking for things - constantly. So this is very interesting.
LUSE: OK. One last question in our little game. Is it more expensive to buy a table at the Met Gala, or is it more expensive to charter a private jet to Nairobi and back home to New York?
CARLOS: I'm going to go with the table because it's hundreds of thousands of dollars.
CARLOS: I don't know the price to get on a private jet, but I'm going to go with the Met dinner.
LUSE: I have to say, so these prices are pretty close, but you are absolutely right.
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LUSE: The cost of a table at the Met Gala is reported to be somewhere between 275 and $300,000. And the cost of a private jet charter to and from Nairobi, 'cause, of course, you know, I'm saying we want to go on vacation, but also, it's good to come home as well. It is quoted around $226,380. The table at the Met Gala's more expensive, although, wow. I'm like, I - would I love a private jet charter to Nairobi? Absolutely.
CARLOS: I would.
LUSE: I prefer it.
CARLOS: I - just to say - to say that I did.
CARLOS: To have my, like, moment, and then I'd be like, OK, this is horrible for the environment.
LUSE: Our producer Corey Antonio commented. He's messaging right now. You absolutely ate that. You absolutely murdered this game. You would be an assassin on "Price Is Right" (laughter).
CARLOS: I - this is not one of the best traits that I have, but it is a trait that I have where I'm just always shopping, and I'm constantly thinking about price tags (laughter).
LUSE: Oh, well, Marjon, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about all things Met Gala. This conversation has fed my soul and scratched my I-need-to-talk-about-the-Met-Gala itch. So thank you so much.
CARLOS: It was a whirlwind night. This was a fantastic way to do it, and I just appreciate having the opportunity.
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LUSE: That was fashion journalist and editor Marjon Carlos. This episode was produced by Corey Antonio Rose and Barton Girdwood. Our editor was Jessica Placzek. I'm Brittany Luse, and we'll be back on Friday for another episode of It's BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. Talk soon, y'all.
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