The red carpet as a concept stretches back, as far as we know today, to 458 B.C. In the Aeschylus play Agamemnon, the hero of the Trojan War returns home to find that his wife has rolled out a crimson carpet for him to walk upon—a visual celebration of his wartime escapades. Agamemnon, however, resists stepping on “these tinted splendors”: The carpet is the walkway of the gods, he explains, and he—“a man, a mortal”—cannot claim such a luxury for himself.
The red carpet of today, pranced upon by gods of a distinctly mortal variety, knows no such modesty. On the contrary: It has become its own kind of war zone, one that demands that those who walk upon it slay, and kill it, and otherwise win. One in which the work of unseen strategists—designers; stylists; publicists; manicurists; facialists—is finally put to the test of battle. The red carpet is a Darwinian competition that has also, in the manner of the circuses of the ancients, become a form of public spectacle.
Nothing is a better reminder of that than the Met Gala, the event that styles itself as “fashion’s biggest evening.” Monday’s version of the event—theme: manus x machina, or the interplay of clothing and technology—was, like its recent predecessors have been, fashion at its most pure: fun, whimsical, a little bit magical. Fashion that is less concerned with beauty than it is with making a point, and making a statement. The gala may not be “fashion’s biggest evening” in the minds of the public at large; that honor traditionally goes to the Oscars, or the Golden Globes, or the Emmys. That’s unfortunate, though, because what the Met Gala offers is fashion stripped, wonderfully, of pretense: fashion that feels no need to justify itself. If the red carpet is a war zone, the Met Gala treats clothing—not beauty, or grace, or wealth, or status, but clothing—as its primary weapons.