In recent years, the star-studded Met Gala has increasingly appealed to China's A-list actors, models, and designers as a way to boost their fashion status on the world stage. Last night saw the annual star-studded fundraising event take place in support of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. This year, three Chinese supermodels were invited to attend, but their outfits failed to impress the maturing tastes of China's progressively sophisticated fashionistas.
2018 saw the manifestation of the Met Gala's theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination". To fit the religious theme, Hollywood stars from Blake Lively, Kate Bosworth, Lily Collins and Rosie Huntington chose outfits inspired by different emblems and symbols of the Catholic religion. However, two attendees from China, Ming Xi and Sun Feifei, were scorned by Chinese social media users, who argued they failed to engage with the theme.
Met Gala veteran Liu Wen (刘雯), who graced the red carpet for the ninth time this year, was considered the only Chinese attendee to have adhered to the theme. She dressed in a Michael Kors strapless red gown with a gold snakeskin clutch and sandals. In an interview with Liu, Refinery 29 reported that it took “550 man hours to embroider [the gown using metal ribbon] and over 2,000 crystals mixed with touches of golden cut beads.” Liu also made it into the list of the night's 30 best looks as rated by Glamour, a publication owned by Condé Nast, whose editorial director Anna Wintour is the ever-present host of the Gala.
Liu is regarded by netizens as one of the most highly respected Chinese supermodels, in large part due to a career of dedication and professionalism. However, despite her popularity, the model's outfit still faced disappointment online. “She looks good this year, but the outfit doesn't really make her look as stunning as she has done in previous years,” wrote one Weibo user.
Similarly, Ming Xi (奚梦瑶), another well-known Chinese supermodel who has walked the runway for the likes of Givenchy, Kenzo, and Victoria’s Secret, was criticized for her choice of a purple Prabal Gurung gown. Chinese comments online ranged from disappointed to embarrassed, with many suggesting the model didn't try to interpret the theme at all. Chinese model Sun Feifei (孙菲菲) dressed in a black Tory Burch gown, and faced the same criticism.
“It is just awkward to see Ming Xi and Sun Feifei show up there as if they have nothing to do with the rest of the party,” wrote another Weibo user. In a post by popular Chinese fashion blogger "shiliupo", the pair's outfits were listed alongside a number of celebrities who "just do not care about the theme."
However, fashion fans loyal to the supermodels attempted to defend their outfit choices, explaining that the controversial Catholic theme might have made the Chinese celebrities unsure as to how to proceed. “It was because this year’s theme was about the Catholic religion, and they, as Chinese nationals, need to be super sensitive. But the designers do try to adhere to the theme. For example, Liu Wen’s gold rose is a religious element that most Chinese people wouldn't be familiar with.”
Perhaps China's strongest connection to the event was the attendance of Wendy Yu (余晚晚), a fashion investor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur who recently set up an endowment of the Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Longtime Met curator Andrew Bolton assumed the role.
Following Yu's debut at the Met Gala in 2017 in Thom Brown, she walked the red carpet this year in an Oscar de la Renta gown- a decision made by her after chatting with Anna Wintour. Though the online community didn't have much to say on the suitability of her outfit, she previously told Vogue how she was planning to interpret the religious theme- "I will be wearing jewelry by a Chinese designer featuring Buddhist symbols."
Yu's choice of Buddhist symbols on her dress is an interesting one when looking to garner support from Chinese fans, and seems to be a safer way for a Chinese celebrity to interpret the religious theme. Buddhism has a long history in China, with 21 percent of the population practicing the religion, representing the largest population of Buddhist's globally. Meanwhile, recognizing Catholicism may be seen as a more controversial theme for Chinese attendees due to the Chinese Communist Party’s restrictions on practicing all forms of Western religion. Fans of Wendy Yu on her own Instagram said the dress was "gorgeous" and made her look "stunning."
Although somewhat contentious for all, this year's religious theme was particularly tricky for Chinese celebrities to interpret, not least because the Catholic religion is not a mainstream belief in China, and most people lack basic knowledge of its history. A similar problem was faced by Western celebrities in 2015, when the theme of "China Through the Looking Glass" was chosen, and designers scrabbled to interpret the theme without causing offense to the largest nation on earth. Despite this year's debatable fashion faux-pas, the increasing attendance of Chinese celebrities helps to further cement China as an emerging player in the larger fashion industry.