14 American Designers to Know Before the Met Gala 2021
The theme of the 2021 Met Gala is a celebration of American fashion.
The Met Gala is back!
Vogue and the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of New York just announced that the Met Gala will return on September 13, 2021. The affair promises to be smaller and more intimate (read: exclusive) than ever and later than its usual date on the first Monday in May due to the pandemic. Yet, pending restrictions, the show will go on — thank God!
Bring me Rihanna in elaborate ball gowns with giant skirts, bring me Zendaya floating up the stairs (and Jason Derulo tumbling down them), bring me Harry Styles (hopefully with Olivia Wilde) looking ethereal, Billy Porter being carried in by shirtless models, and Amanda Gorman, rumored to be one of the hosts, who is just having a really great year.
The Inaugural poet, who was on the cover of the May 2021 issue of Voguewearing a Louis Vuitton Men's garment designed by Virgil Abloh, has signed to IMG Models and has become much more than a literary star. A fashion icon since she performed at the Biden Inauguration in Prada, the 23-year old poet/activist is the perfect host to represent this year's Gala theme: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.
The theme is part of a two-year exhibit, the first of which will premiere on September 18, 2021, and the second, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, will premiere on May 2, 2022 with a regularly scheduled Gala. The theme was decided by Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute years ago, and feels timely as the country reckons with its identity.
The theme also celebrates the Costume Institute's 75th anniversary and pays homage to the American fashion community "to acknowledge its support, and also to celebrate and reflect upon American fashion," according to Bolton.
American fashion has been an underdog in the Western fashion landscape compared to more established houses in Europe. While American designers have often found themselves at the helm of major European powerhouses — like Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton — American brands find it harder to gain the same pedigree.
While fashion is exclusive in many ways, often the best parts of American fashion reflect the best parts of American culture.
In a recent tell all interview for Highsnobiety titled "Read This Before You Decide to Work in Fashion," which was overall a cutting insider's look at the fashion industry, Eugene Rabkin also highlighted the most redeemable part of the industry, what he described as "the aspirational class — the immigrants, the expats, the minorities, the restless souls with the kind of passion that often comes from desperation and the desire to make something out of nothing."
The designers highlighted in this year's Costume Institute exhibit promise to be members of this class — the people who have had the biggest impact on fashion by representing marginalized communities and using fashion as a tool for creativity and storytelling, rather than a marker of status.
There are many visionary designers who will be included at the exhibit and who we hope to see on the red carpet at the Met Gala for their pioneering work:
In a lot of ways American high fashion is synonymous with Halston. Starting his career as a hat maker, he famously made the pill-box hat that Jackie Kennedy wore at JFK's inauguration. He reached his peak in the 1970s disco era known for minimalist designs with precise cuts in rich materials. Despite being disparaged early in his career for his sexuality, he became a household name and an icon to the biggest celebrities and to the youth, especially queer youth.
Stephen Burrows has been a fashion mainstay since his first collection in 1969. He participated in the now infamous 1973 "Battle of Versailles',' a benefit fashion show held at the Palace of Versailles. The show was a "battle" between American and French designers including Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Anne Klein.The Americans won the battle, according to WWD, whose ensuing headline on November 30, 1973 was,
"Americans came, they sewed, they conquered."In the 2021 Met exhibition, the battle will be represented by a mural of Versailles by John Vanderlyn to commemorate its place is American fashion history.
Ann Lowe was a pioneer in dressmaking whose immaculately stitched gowns became mid-century mainstays among the elite. Born in a line of seamstresses — her grandmother a formerly enslaved dressmaker and her mother an expert at embroidery — Lowe made dresses which prioritized the details to accentuate a dress's hems and hangs. Her impact is resonant in the history of Black American designers, as well for her focus on precision and intimacy.
For a long time, her work was not credited under her name, and high profile work she did for politicians (including Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress) and the elite was credited under pseudonyms like "colored-dressmaker," but later in her career she got name recognition. Some of her pieces are already displayed in places like the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum of the City of New York, FIT, and even the Met.
Ralph Lauren is a legacy American brand which has been successful in defining the collegiate/preppy classics. But they're not just your grandfather's favorite brand. By focusing on good materials and timeless designs, they have managed to stay relevant — alongside recent collaborations with popular brands like Kith to appeal to a younger audience.
Willi Smith was a giant in the 1970 and 1980s whose legacy includes highlighting "streetwear" on a larger scale. He was also famed for his immersive creative experiences, which included showrooms, a newspaper called WilliWear News, a film shot in Senegal, and dance pieces and events — a full spectrum creative direction which streetwear brands today aspire to even approach.
Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss
Pyer Moss is one of the most vibrant contemporary brands. With recent press from Kamala Harris's pre-Inauguration coat and appearing on magazine covers on celebrities like Zendaya, the brand is known for its innovative and refreshing designs. Kerby Jean-Raymond started the brand in 2013 and has received many accolades for his take on luxury-streetwear, which prioritizes visual storytelling through vibrant colors, culturally inspired prints, and compelling shapes.
Andre Walker released his first runway collection in 1981 at a neighborhood nightclub and has been innovating ever since. From his own collections to consulting for Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones to recent collaborations with Off-White, Walker is a constant staple in contemporary fashion — focused on representing Black culture and reinventing classics.
Anna Sui is a pioneer who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, distancing herself from major houses and instead reveling in the underexplored world of the grunge scene. She was a mainstay in the New York fashion scene due to her friendships with supermodels who modeled her clothes and gained a cult-like following alongside many awards and global recognition.
At their Spring 2020 show, Prabal Gurung posed the question: "Who gets to be American?" This direct challenge to identity through fashion makes them an important emerging brand. Prabal Gurung is not just innovative in design but embodies the values of successful, contemporary brands. Based in New York City, the brand is committed to domestic manufacturing to support the local community. Founder Prabal Gurung also started Shikshya foundation Nepal based on his "personal exposure to the poverty and inequity in his homeland of Nepal."
LaQuan Smith started his brand at only 21 and is now one of the most celebrated Black, luxury designers. Famed for his innovative pieces and intricate details, Smith has amassed a cult-like following and a reputation spurred by high profile clients including Rihanna and Beyonce.
Peter Do, helmed by the designer Peter Do himself and made up of friends who met online, is an ambitious brand which has already established itself as one of the leading contemporary brands. After signing contracts with retailers like Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter without any contacts or connections, their menswear inspired designs are instant classics that take the best of traditional tailoring and modify it for the current times.
Aurora James of Brother Vellies
Brooklyn-based shoe designer Aurora James is no stranger to the Met Gala. Having previously designed Met outfits for celebrities like Solange and appearing on the September 2020 cover of Vogue, the award-winning designer is known for her African-inspired designs which draw from the continent and are produced in limited quantities in partnership with African designers.
She is also the founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, which started in the pandemic to urge retailers to give at least 15 percent of their shelf space to Black designers.
Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air
Shayne Oliver started Hood By Air in 2006, giving new energy to streetwear in high fashion which was ahead of its time. The oversized garments, the gender neutral designs, and the bold urban influence set the stage for major brands like Vetements and Off White and won major awards. He recently announced the return of Hood By Air, and OG streetwear fans rejoiced, anticipating the new iteration of the beloved.
Virgil Abloh of Off-White
Virgil is the current cultish superstar of American design. While currently the helm of the French label Louis Vuitton, he is still best known for his Off-White brand — one of the leading streetwear brands which has been seen on everyone from Serena Williams when she hosted the Met Gala, Kid Cudi in his recent dress on SNL, and even Hailey Bieber's wedding dress. He is also responsible for designing some of the most exclusive Nike sneakers in his infamous collaboration, The Ten. Off-White will undoubtedly be featured at this year's Gala and will remain a hallmark of the streetwear community.
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