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Florals, Decay, and the Timely Significance of the Met Gala Theme

A closer examination of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian narrative, ‘The Garden of Time,’ reveals an interpretation that is relevant now, more so than ever.

An image of flowers and fruit to represent The garden Met Gala theme.
The Met theme inspired by J.G. Ballard's short story produced mixed reactions online. Credit: Unsplash/europeana

The annual fundraising “Met” gala, hosted for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in Manhattan, marked the return of fashion’s biggest night, characterized by style, extravagance, and eyebrow-raising interpretations of its fantastical theme, “The Garden of Time.” 

Vogue’s most glamorous and exclusive event saw a gathering of the world’s most culturally relevant personalities from diverse professional backgrounds. Social media users across the globe enjoyed participating in the annual ritual of deciphering and decoding attendees’ nods and interpretations of the theme through glamorous couture and designer-made ensembles.

J.G. Ballard’s iconic 1962 short story bloomed throughout the night, inspiring an over-indulgence of trains, crowded florals and more than one reference to time on the red carpet. Interpretations of the eponymous theme invited attendees to delve into the cyclical nature of time, decay, and renewal, blending together elements of fantasy and reality in their sartorial choices. 

Ballard’s tale, which acts as a metaphor for the endless cycle of creation and destruction in evolution, echoes the themes of the Costume Institute’s new exhibition, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” The thought-provoking fantasy story follows the fall of the handsome, sophisticated Count Axel and his wife, living in splendour, who stave off an encroaching, deadly mob using a garden of dying plants that can stall time.

Critics and social media users have pointed out the delicious irony of this year’s Met Gala theme, echoing a story where the last figureheads of wealth, indulgence, and beauty are overrun by a working-class mob. The implications for the event celebrating affluence, extravagance, and luxury, with tickets priced upwards of $75,000 are disconcerting, set against a backdrop of ongoing ceasefire protests, volatility, and economic uncertainty – making divisions in class, wealth, and safety more stark than ever.

Social Media Reactions

Audiences across the world who weren’t fortunate enough to receive invitations, analysed the subjective interpretations of the J.G. Ballard theme on social media, during the main red carpet of the night.

South Africa’s breakout star Tyla’s transformation into a sand sculpture at the 2024 Met Gala was a bold interpretation of the Garden of Time dress code. The Balmain team’s innovative approach in making a dress entirely out of sand not only paid homage to the theme’s reference to the sands of time but also displayed a creative fusion of fashion and art.

The strapless silhouette accentuated every curve of the singer’s body before cascading into an organza mermaid train. The inclusion of the Balmain hourglass clutch also enhanced the cohesive narrative of Tyla’s interpretation and made it one of the most viral nods to the night’s theme.

Zendaya made a grand entrance at the 2024 Met Gala with not one but two striking ensembles that broke the internet. For her first appearance, she donned an ocean blue gown by Maison Margiela’s John Galliano, followed by a matching dramatic headpiece. The haute couture ensemble also featured a sage lamé and organza bias-cut dress layered over a duchesse satin corset adorned with bands of iridescent organza and a hand-embroidered corsage.

Similarly, entrepreneur and philanthropist Mona Patel stole the spotlight as the night’s most talked-about mystery guest, making her debut in custom Iris Van Herpen couture. Upon closer inspection of her dramatic body-hugging red carpet attire, one could spot an array of kinetic flower petals encircling her arms, gently fluttering in slow motion. This unique addition to her couture look was a collaborative creation that Patel realized with her friend, kinetic motion artist Casey Curran.

The Met Gala Culture

At the Met Gala, where fashion supposedly meets art, the “Garden of Time” theme invites a broader dialogue on the role of fashion as a reflection of society’s values and aspirations. The shifting interpretations and controversial readings urge contemplation beyond the boundaries of art and into our relationship with time, tradition, and innovation in contemporary society.

It is interesting to consider how J.G. Ballard, known for his dystopian writing, might perceive his story being distorted and altered to fit the Met’s social and political setting. His commentary now serves as the backdrop to the jewels and flowers elegantly paraded on the red carpet, with a complicated web of darker truths also hidden underneath.

Maybe the dystopian interpretations of this year’s theme by critics are an anticipated strategy planted by the committee to spark conversation in a world without bad press. Or perhaps as the annual Gala grows, the event’s themes have only become more ambitious, sparking discussions, debates, and interpretations that extend far beyond the confines of the red carpet.

If anything, the discourse around this year’s Met Gala has proven that the event serves as a powerful platform for social commentary, cultural critique, and creative expression, shaping our reflections on art, fashion, and identity in the 21st century.

Written By

I'm a trainee journalist with a passion for uncovering fresh, untold stories and delivering impactful narrative to shed light on pressing issues.

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