It was all about the nude dress at Monday night's Met Gala, where Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian managed to capture the spotlight at an event celebrating fashion by wearing very little of it.
The trio of undressed divas stepped out in sheer gowns with a few well-placed crystals and feathers covering their bits -- "one step above vagazzling," as one social media commentator said.
The goal, as any shock jock knows, was to get people to look. Or, more to the point, to get people to click and like and comment, because this trio have a combined 78 million Instagram followers. And social media currency doesn't hinge on middle-of-the-road good taste; it's all about best or worst. If you're demonized for being "worst-dressed," and you stir up the haters, even better; the discussion will go on for days and days. It will stick.
It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as a desperate bid for attention. We get it -- Beyonce is a mom whose bod snapped back because of a strict vegan diet and her 1,000 squats-a-day habit; JLo has still got it at age 45, even though she's descended into reality-show TV stardom; and Kim K is the most famous non-famous person that ever lived, and she's elevated the posterior to an art form. But maybe the gowns don't say anything more than that these ladies know how to take their clothes off.
Then again, maybe there is a deeper message here about product and brand. Red-carpet dressing is about celebrities parading around as human clothes hangers for products carrying the label (Prada, Gucci, Givenchy) of the highest bidder. But if the clothes melt away, sparkling embroidery and hand-stitching yielding to curves toned with thousands of hours of squats, the product that remains is the celebrity.
Beyonce's waist, Kim Kardashian's butt and JLo's hips -- Venus-like qualities all, are what we're left to marvel over and discuss, not the designers who packaged them. This wasn't Anna Wintour's party after all; it was Hollywood's.
There's a certain power to putting the personality before the clothes. And it plays into the "Free The Nipple" brand of feminism that's been in the cultural discussion for the last year or so. You can dress me, but you don't own me. I'll come to your little museum party, but it's my body -- starved and sculpted, tucked and plumped -- that will be the masterpiece.
But if self-assertiveness is the point of all this nakedness (and I'm not totally convinced it is), what's next? Rihanna has moved on already. And maybe other celebrities should too. When Rihanna wore a totally transparent, not just nearly nude, Adam Selman gown to the CFDA Awards in June, her nipples front and center, barely covered in crystal mesh, she dropped the mic. It was a subtle middle finger to the industry that was honoring her. She was the empress in no clothes.
But Monday night at the Met Gala, she was the empress in all the clothes, wearing a canary yellow cape with a train so long it required four attendants, designed by Chinese talent Guo Pei. The over-the-top creation made a spectacle, created an Internet meme and promoted a Chinese designer at a Chinese-themed event. It was a triple crown. She showed respect to fashion -- and herself.