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The Met Gala: Up For Interpretation


The Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Each year the gala marks the opening of the Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibit, and is a highly anticipated event, primarily due to the ways in which celebrities can interpret each year's theme. Originally set for 2020, this year's theme was America: A Lexicon of Fashion, in honour of the 75th anniversary of the Costume Institute.


When I thought of this theme I was struck by thoughts of old Hollywood, double denim, stark political statements, and stars and stripes, but, considering I am not American, my experiences of the USA are blurred by my distance. For the majority of celebrities in attendance, this theme is broader, because every experience on US soil is America. Everything that occurs on that continent is also America. There is so much space for individuals to look for inspiration from.


From Lil Naz X wearing three different outfits to the gala on 13th September 2021, to Pharrell Williams, some of the interpretations of the theme were significantly different from how I had perceived it. It reminded me of the idea that no two people see a colour in the same way, because no two brains are the same. The colour may inspire the same emotions, but it doesn’t mean that they are recognised in the same manner, like during the scathing battles online over The Dress, and whether it was white and gold, or blue and black – I personally only ever saw it as a white and gold number, but that doesn’t mean it was!


Lil Naz X was a showstopper from the get-go in the storytelling of his attire. The first outfit he wore along the cream carpet, was a striking champagne coloured cape, with intricate embroidery across the chest. When he shed this, he revealed a dramatic change of eras in his clothing, a gold suit of armour! Beneath that still was an embellished bodysuit in the Versace house print. Lil Naz X is renowned for being able to catch the eyes of the photographers at red carpet events, wearing bright colours, and exaggerated silhouettes during the promotion of his first single Uptown Road, and onward from there. Each outfit seemed to depict a different historical era to the viewers of the event. From where I was standing, I saw royalty from the cape, and the idea of America being under the control of a distant ruler from across the seas, from a colder land. I interpreted the gold armour as the American dream, and the individualistic and materialistic nature of society that came from the Great Depression, everyone had to be strong, and once the economy began to recover the world was still a battleground to avoid appearing less financially prosperous than their neighbours. Finally, the last look struck me as an expression of the now, free expression, love of the body, the self and the skin you’re in.


Pharrell Williams, and his wife Helen Lasichanh wore matching outfits inspired by the wild west, designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Cowboys were a great draw onto American cinema, and the nostalgia around the idea of roaming the wild west was greatly romanticised. Despite this, the iconic cowboy ensemble has become synonymous with costume parties for children and adults alike. The Met Gala, and a designer spin, meant that the couple donned beautiful leather trousers and shirts, gold bolo ties and gold tipped boots. Another traditional image I had not considered.


When I thought of American fashion, I had thought of 1950’s style vintage dresses, dramatic silhouettes and yet, somehow managed to forget the cultural significance of the prohibition era, and the romanticised images of 1920’s America, including the sexualised forms of the classic flapper dress. Someone who took a completely new, and opulent interpretation of the flapper dress was designer Jonathan Simkhai, for actress, model and body positivity advocate, Barbie Ferreira, who wore a beaded gown that appeared to be dripping in jewels, as opposed to streamers or fringe, like party stores would depict the flapper in. The dress had a dramatic shape, and it fell beautifully on her. It was a favourite of mine.


In contrast, another young woman who walked the stairs to the Met Gala was politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), well known amongst the young politically minded individuals of the United States as democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ running mate, was also in attendance. Her gown was one that certainly made me take a second glance. She wore a white dress with red writing across the back and into the train that said “Tax the rich”. The irony of the situation, of course, being that if you are not invited to the gala it costs approximately $30,000 for an individual ticket, versus around $275,000, to book a table. This hefty price tag, without the cost of custom designer apparel, meant that everyone in the room were the people she wanted to have pay more taxes. The poignant statement also appeared a parody of the famous dress worn by Joy Villa, at the 2019 Grammy Awards, in support of Donald Trump and his radical goal and campaign ideology in the lead up to 2016, to build a wall that crossed the perimeter of the border between the United States of America, and Mexico to thwart illegal immigration attempts, and subsequently increased hostility between immigrants and those in the country that had supposedly welcomed them.


Singer Billie Eilish attended the gala in a nude, tule gown by Oscar de la Renta, and paid homage to Marilyn Monroe in the process, wearing her blonde hair short and styled upward toward her face. Eilish was able to utilise her platform and the publicity she would receive from the press whilst at the gala, to make sure the designer ceased using fur in the production of their high fashion clothing. This was due to her, as a vegan and an animal rights activist, not wanting to be associated with a brand that was actively going against her morals. This was historical are there are no known instances of having a celebrity negotiate terms to wear a designers’ gown to the gala previously.


The Met Gala is one of the most significant events in fashion, designer apparel being put in competition with one another as each person walks inside to enjoy their evening. The interpretation of the theme, and the avant garde nature of previous events cannot be forgotten – shout out to Katy Perry’s famous burger dress from the 2019 gala! But, I digress, the idea that everybody can take the idea of America and interpret it in so many different ways is astounding, and amazing. It does, demonstrate a lot about a task too.


Just like at work, if you were to sit five members of staff to write a short advertisement, just a paragraph to advertise the company’s services, would they all end up the same? Especially if your business offers multiple different services. For example, if you worked for McDonalds, surely the main focus would be to promote the food. But what about parties. McDonalds birthday parties, although significantly less common in the UK, still occur, and it is important to avoid penalising whoever thought of that because they didn’t understand the task. Because they did. They just, interpreted the task differently.


Similarly, if you were to work for Ikea, it would be important to stress the importance of everything but the hours of swearing because you can’t assemble a chest of drawers, or decipher the instructions. But, what would you choose to promote? Bedrooms, bathrooms? The fact you can buy an entire pre-university haul from their warehouse? What about their immensely cheap and delicious food in the café? Sure Ikea isn’t a food distributer like McDonalds, but a 45p hot dog isn’t going to go amiss, and it is certainly an integral part of the experience.


Ultimately, perspective, and interpretation is an important thing when it comes to conveying an idea. As amazing and extravagant as the Met Gala is, avoiding having pitches in conference room three being overwhelmed with drastically different ideas about a task sounds like a nightmare. To avoid this, we suggest clarity. Break your tasks down, especially if you are asking for ideas, set parameters and make sure that those are concrete, and concise. By keeping your vision at the centre, and making instructions easier to comprehend, you avoid making your pitches look like an unsolicited Met Gala.



Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.


He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.


The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.


To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address: arvind@theagileworks.com

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