Ahead of the 2016 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala, model Jessica Hart took to her Instagram account this weekend to share a photo of a fitting with Paris-based design legend, Azzedine Alaïa, suggesting, of course, that she would wear a white Alaïa dress to the annual fashion industry event. While this is otherwise not news – at all – it proves interesting if we consider a bit of background.
You may recall that back in 2009, the Met Gala and corresponding exhibit bore a “Model as Muse” theme. The exhibit, which ran at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from May until August 2009, “focused on iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting, and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.”
In accordance with this theme, the exhibit featured the work of icons like Charles James, Madame Grès, Cristobal Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as more recent figures (yet still very seasoned creative like Gianni Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Peter Lindbergh, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and Calvin Klein.
Not included in the exhibit: Azzedine Alaïa. The 20th and 21st century design master, known for his body-sculupting gowns and his aversion to the traditional fashion calendar. Mr. Alaïa is also known for being heavily connected to a number of model muses, including Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Marie-Sophie Wilson, Veronica Webb, Farida Khelfa and Tatjana Patitz, making him a seemingly obvious inclusion for the corresponding exhibition.
Yet, as Horyn noted: “Nonetheless, apart from one photograph, by Gilles Bensimon of Elle, Alaïa’s work has no place in the Met’s exhibition.”
What ensued was an all-out fashion war. Writing for her then “On the Runway” column for the New York Times, Cathy Horyn stated: “Seven models [including Linda Evangelista, Stephanie Seymour, and Naomi Campbell] were to wear outfits by Azzedine Alaïa to tonight’s Costume Institute party to celebrate the opening of the “Model as Muse” exhibit, but Alaïa has asked them not to wear the dresses. And some of the models, including Naomi Campbell, have decided not to attend the party because the designer’s work is not in the exhibition.”
A spokesman for Campbell confirmed the news on the eve of the Gala, saying: “As Naomi has been the muse of Azzedine Alaïa for 23 years, she feels she doesn’t want to attend unless she can represent his work.”
Horyn also spoke to Mr. Alaïa himself about the exhibit and the diss. He said that he was not fully informed by the Met about the subject of the show, nor was he invited to attend the opening. He had made dresses for the models, at their request, but last week, when it became clear to him that his work was not in the exhibition, he asked the models not wear the dresses. “It would have been silly to have seven girls wearing my dresses at the party and not have anything of mine in the exhibit,” he said.
Alaïa’s thoughts on the matter did not stop there, though, as he openly placed blame for the omission on Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, who organizes the annual Gala and has a hand in the exhibit, instead of the Met’s chief costume curator, Harold Koda. And the feud has reportedly spanned quite a few years. When Alaïa staged his first show since 2003 at the very end of couture week in July 2011, he reportedly banned Wintour and her team from attending.
Ever since, there have been only a few Alaïa gowns in sight at the Met Gala. Unlike the throngs of Gala-goers in Prada or Givenchy or Giambattista Valli couture or the like, only a small (and I mean small) number of the major attendees have worn Alaïa. In fact, a quick review of the Met Galas from 2009 to tonight, only jewelry designer Gaia Repossi seems to have worn Alaïa, and that was just last year!
With all of this in mind, it seems rather significant that Alaïa could potentially be dressing Hart (and maybe others) for the event. As for whether he’ll be in attendance, almost certainly not!
UPDATE (5/2/2016): Hart did, in fact, attend the 2016 Met Gala in Alaia.