McQueen, Margiela & Archive Magic: 4 vintage dealers on how the Met Gala red carpet will play out

By Alice Newbold

Photo: Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty Images

What do the archive fashion dealers – who will no doubt have been fielding calls from celebrity stylists for months – actually expect to see come 6 May? We tap the vintage pedlars directly to find out

The Met Gala dress code is something of a political minefield. Not simple a case of harnessing one’s creative license to put a personal spin on the annual fashion exhibition’s theme, there are brand ambassadorships at play and lucrative partnerships at stake. For some, the aim is to nod to the subject matter in a way that reads intellectual, yet quietly breathtaking. For others, it’s to shout the loudest. Some like to wear as little as possible. Others flaunt the directive entirely.


This year’s dress code – ‘The Garden Of Time’ – leaves plenty of room for interpretation, as attendees will – in theory – celebrate the verdant tropes of nature while nodding to the exhibition itself – Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion – which spotlights historical fashion so fragile that it can never be worn again. But, since Kim Kardashian ignited a fraught debate about the ethics of wearing frail, storied looks – when she convinced Ripley’s to let her wear Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr President gown to the 2022 ball – the vintage community is feeling a touch tense about the prospect of museum-worthy pieces hitting the step-and-repeat.

First thing’s first: what do the archive fashion dealers – who will no doubt have been fielding calls from celebrity stylists for months – actually expect to see come 6 May? Two words you might not immediately expect to hear: Bridgerton chic. Romantic florals, frothy tulle and ethereal colours are the perfect ingredients for a whimsical, period drama-adjacent, throwback feast. But, says Cherie Balch of Shrimpton Couture, “It will be very interesting to see the interpretation of time passing – especially if brands make new creations that look purposefully aged.”

The Sleeping Beauties idea makes Mon Vintage’s Marie Blanchet think of the painting ‘Ophelia’ by Sir John Everett Millais, and the scene in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in which Kirsten Dunst floats down a river. “I personally would love to see the fragility poetically incarnated,” says the fashion history expert the Olsens have on speed dial. “In France, we have a beautiful expression for a piece that can only be worn once – or ‘to make an entrance’, as Cristóbal Balenciaga famously said. We say, ‘Déjeuner de soleil’, which I find super inspiring. There will be a focus on materials that are in essence ephemeral, sensorial or extra fragile. It could also be great to see pieces that have lived so much that they hold on by a thread, like a vestige of the past…”

“I’d like to see as many runway looks from Alexander McQueen as possible,” says Claudia Ricco, “from 2001’s Voss collection to a 2007 Sarabande baroque floral dress [as pictured above].” . Photo: Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty Images

While poeticism will certainly come into play – The Garden of Time is a short story by JG Ballard about a couple trying to preserve their utopian surroundings – there are concerns about wearing say, Alexander McQueen’s baroque floral dress from the designer’s spring/summer 2007 Sarabande collection, or the rose-dotted look worn by Laetitia Casta in Yves Saint Laurent’s final spring/summer 1999 show. “Some real magic has to come into play in order for an original archival piece to work,” asserts Brynn Jones Saban, the model and owner of Aralda Vintage. “A lot of responsibility comes with wearing a historical piece – especially when borrowed. It has to fit the person perfectly. Then, there’s the issue of trust. Body make-up, high heels and hair products could all ruin the garment, so there needs to be strict guidelines and deep attentiveness to the getting-ready process. Alterations are almost never an option, unless it’s purchased. Even then, it is a shame to have to significantly alter something chronicled, as it affects the integrity of it.”

“There are so many incredible pieces that come to mind, but I would love to see look 17 ( head-to-toe!) from the Christian Dior Haute Couture spring/summer 1998 collection,” notes Brynn Jones Saban.

“Alterations are always a tricky subject,” chimes in Balch, who will approve any minor tweaks that can be undone, but nothing that compromises conservation. “The reality is that pieces from the past were made in a way so that they could be altered to follow the changes of a woman’s life and body. There was an entire industry of people built around alterations that could be done and undone – I feel like that’s been lost in our modern world unfortunately. I see pieces that have been absolutely butchered or altered in a way that completely takes away from the designer’s original concept, and that can be heartbreaking.”

Almost all the dealers cite Kim’s Marilyn moment – in no uncertain terms – as an example of what not to do in the name of a memorable Met look. “These pieces belong in a museum, behind glass or in a storage unit with a controlled temperature – they are definitely not fit for partying, let alone altering to fit measurements of a beauty standard which is very different to those of 70 years ago,” asserts Claudia Ricco of Rewind Vintage. Kardashian’s appropriation of Monroe’s original “naked” dress was, adds Blanchet, “unsettling for many reasons, but isn’t fragility the theme of this year’s Met Gala…?”

Marie Blanchet would love to see someone – maybe co-host Zendaya? – bloom in the rose-dotted look Laetitia Casta wore during Yves Saint Laurent’s final spring/summer 1999 show. Photo: Fairchild Archive/Getty Images

The experts – who are praying to the fashion gods for flashes of Martin Margiela’s brilliance, Chanel’s expansive use of its signature camellia, and basically anything by Alexander McQueen – also have strong thoughts on the remakes of seminal runway looks that will inevitably grace the museum’s famous stairs come gala night. “Remakes can certainly take away the enchantment of what would be – say if someone wore an original gown from the ’30s. But a vast amount of the most exquisite pieces out there are likely never going to be worn again, in which case the best option is to honour it with a replica,” opines Jones Saban. Balch, who is a stickler for detail and a true romantic, believes repeats are simply never in the same league as the original. “The ability to remake the intricate pieces truly to the same level just does not exist anymore,” shares the woman, who masterminded Adut Akech’s archive Christian Lacroix gown for the 2022 Met Gala. “I do love that they bring the knowledge of the original dress to a larger audience, and anything that adds more interest around vintage is a good thing, but it’s been done so many times now that I would rather see fresh, original ideas if someone doesn’t want to wear vintage!”

When the best-dressed lists roll out, it will only be this small pocket of an industry better known for peddling newness that spots the most authentic interpretations of a dress code as sprawling as the Met exhibition catalogue itself. Later down the line, when big-name brands – who are currently working hard to bolster their own archives in line with the surge of interest around decades-old fashion – scoop up the last of the luxury vintage, let’s hope they still listen to the specialists who live for Romeo Gigli couture (Balch has a coat in her treasure trove that she wishes someone would wear to the Met), and the rarefied work of Callot Sisters and Georges Dœuillet, who majored in Madame du Barry and Marie Antoinette-style confections (just a few of Blanchet’s Mastermind subjects). Like the Met museum itself, fashion relies on its curators and fanatics who, like these four, could risk being washed away by the tide of social-media trends. The Met Gala 2024 red carpet should be a celebration of the past while driving fashion forward in a thoughtful way – time will tell who will weed out the most hype from the vast garden of inspiration.

“I would love to see some of the McQueen pieces from the collections in which he focused on nature themes specifically,” shares Balch. Pictured here: Alexander McQueen spring/summer 2001. Photo: Shutterstock