Reading: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
When I first heard the theme for this year's Met Gala, "China: Through the Looking Glass," I cringed a bit. As an Asian-American, I was worried that fashion's biggest event would make a mockery of Chinese culture because let's face it - it's a fine line between celebrating a foreign culture and being racist. I was afraid that Chinese fashion would be shown in costume-y and cheesy ways that would make it hard for Asians to feel genuine pride in their culture.
However, to my surprise, many attendees actually came in tasteful attire that hinted to the Chinese theme without being obnoxious. My personal favorite was Anna Ewers' outfit because it was chic even outside of the Asian context of the night. I loved how her kanzashi-esque hair piece served as subtle reminder of the night's theme without coming off cheesy. Rita Ora's Tom Ford dress also impressed me in the way that its structural shoulders reminded me of a qipao yet it was still a dress that could be worn to any function.
While there were plenty of classy renditions of Chinese dresses like Zhang Ziyi's Caroline Herrera gown and Bee Shaffer's sakura print Alexander McQueen, there were still enough gowns to leave me feeling slightly offended, as if the Chinese theme of the night was taken as an opportunity to put on some sort of a costume. Model Karolina Kurkova's Tommy Hilfiger mini-dress left me feeling especially offended because of its cheesy interpretation of Chinese clothing. Don't you feel like it's too cliche to just show up in a red satin dress with some gold brocade and call it Chinese? It just felt like something you would find in a touristy Chinatown gift shop.
Arguably, Rihanna's dress is just as costume-y as Kurkova's. However, there are two big differences in my mind why Rihanna's outfit was acceptable and why Kurkova's wasn't. First of all, Rihanna is known for her avant-garde taste in fashion, so I saw her dress as more of an appreciation of a work of art rather than a costume. Second of all, Rihanna's dress is from a Chinese designer, Guo Pei. Who am I to argue over the "correct" representation of Chinese culture with another Chinese person?
With that distinction in mind, I couldn't help but wonder, why not just take the easy route for this year's Met Gala and wear a dress from an Asian designer? Isn't that the easiest (and least offensive) way to pay homage to Asian culture? It's not like you would have to go as extreme as Guo Pei's cape or anything, since there are plenty of luxurious and chic Asian designers to choose from like: Richard Chai, Prabal Gurung, Derek Lam, Philip Lim, Anna Sui, Alexander Wang, Vera Wang, and Jason Wu. I just felt like considering how many amazing Asian designers there are, it was disappointing to see so few Asian brands represented at the gala, considering the theme.