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How come this year’s red carpet protests didn’t touch the Met Gala?

#TimesUp tried to change the rules of the red carpet – but fashion wasn’t interested

Red carpet dressing is in a weird place in 2018. The year began with the Golden Globes, with the women who attended wearing black in support of the #TimesUp movement, formed in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. As well as taking aim at Hollywood’s culture of sexism and sexual abuse, the parade of dark dresses was also a protest aimed at the gendered and vicious double standard of the red carpet: men wear suits, while women in elaborate gowns have their achievements sidelined so their looks can be pitted against one another. The response to the efficacy of an all-black protest was mixed (why not boycott the ceremony all together?) and by the time the Oscars rolled around in March, the red carpet was pretty much back on its best-dressed-worst-dressed bullshit.

Yesterday, it was announced that 100 top actresses and female figures in film would stage a protest on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, which opens today, in support of #MeToo. This news got lost in the noise coming from another red carpet, however, considering the fact that yesterday was also the Met Gala. The annual ball accompanies the opening of the Costume Institute’s exhibition, with guests invited to dress to the show’s theme – this year it was Heavenly Bodies, an exploration of Catholicism in fashion. Stars turned out in their best saintly looks – Katy Perry wore some obnoxiously oversized angel wings, Lana Del Rey channelled the Virgin Mary, and Rihanna was a sexy pope in custom Margiela by John Galliano.

Before you get in my mentions, let me say this: I love seeing people express themselves through ridiculous OTT couture. I’m also fully aware that there are limitations to using the red carpet as a space for resistance. But considering fashion’s own #MeToo scandal and the fact the theme was, you know, Catholicism, this year’s Met Gala was a missed opportunity for protest. Bar Lena Waithe, who showed up in a floor-trailing rainbow pride cape as a nod to the Catholic Church’s problematic history of LGBTQ+ issues (the Vatican has called being gay a ‘moral disorder’, FYI), and the warrior-esque Joan of Arc looks worn by Shailene Woodley, Zendaya, and Michelle Williams, there weren’t a whole lot of statements anywhere.

So why didn’t fashion have its own #TimesUp red carpet moment?

Firstly, there are practical considerations, like not pissing off Anna Wintour and risking never being invited back, and the fact that, for the most part, guests are invited and dressed by a particular brand, which limits the scope for political statements somewhat. If your ticket is being paid for by H&M, they might not be so thrilled if you go as a giant billboard for the Repeal Movement, which seeks to revoke Ireland’s strict (Catholic!) law on abortion in the referendum on May 25.

The #TimesUp protest of the Globes was a very direct response to the film industry’s sexual assault revelations. Meanwhile, fashion’s reckoning didn’t really even get started. Rumours circulated for months about a New York Times piece about allegedly abusive photographers. Despite naming Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, when it eventually materialised, it was nowhere near as extensive as expected. Then, the Boston Globe’s Jenn Abelson and Sacha Pfeiffer (who was on the team which won a Pulitzer for uncovering, wait for it, the widespread cover-up of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church) detailed more allegations – Patrick Demarchelier was named, but ‘25 others’ were not. An extensive list of names accused of misconduct was published by the Instagram account @shitmodelmgmt, and within a few days was taken down.

“Our #MeToo moment was a long time coming, but never quite got the same momentum as that of other industries – it already feels like a memory”

Unlike in the film industry, which saw carefully penned and generally very lacking apologies issued by everyone from Louis C.K. to Kevin Spacey, fashion figures have avoided accepting responsibility. Guess Jeans founder Paul Marciano rebuffed Kate Upton’s allegations (corroborated by a third party) that he groped her, calling her claims “preposterous”. Facing a lawsuit, Bruce Weber said he “unequivocally denies” any charges, a position also taken by stylist Karl Templer, who was named by the Globe, as well as Testino’s lawyers. Demarchelier dismissed claims as “ridiculous”. “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery,” Karl Lagerfeld said in a recent interview with Numéro.

An unfortunate reality is that most of the victims willing to go on the record against high profile fashion names were relatively unknown male models rather than A-list female celebrities, meaning ultimately that their claims were less impactful and less easy to parlay into a ‘wearing black’ statement. And sadly, fashion seems far too insular, blind to its own flaws, and ultimately protective of its own to have the reckoning it really needs (if you don’t believe me, go and see which high profile figures are still happily liking Bruce Weber’s Instagram pictures). Our #MeToo moment was a long time coming, but never quite got the same momentum as that of other industries – and to be honest, it already feels like a memory. Fashion has moved on.

We can’t forget, though. As the news trails off, as fewer people come forward, as the noise dies down, it’s vital we don’t plaster over the cracks that have shown in fashion’s façade, that we make sure the exploitation that was allowed to happen is no longer sanctioned or swept under the rug, that we learn from all of this moving forward. Because whether cruel bullies or out and out sexual predators, I have no doubt that abusers are still out there in the industry, still getting booked for jobs. Maybe you don’t think that the Met Gala, the most-publicised singular fashion event of the year, is the place to take a stand on these issues. But if not, where is?