Gold dragons, lavish imperial robes, and over-the-top headdresses were part of some of the attention-grabbing looks that could be seen on top celebrities at this year’s China-themed Met Gala. But there was one group of stars that took a decidedly toned-down approach to the “Chinese white tie” dress code: the Chinese celebrities.
While one of the biggest fashion events of the year always has a few Chinese stars in attendance, the China-related theme had top Chinese actresses and models out in full force on the red carpet this year. Like their American counterparts, most of the celebrities opted for major U.S. or European designers instead of going with a Chinese label. In addition, the lavish attempts at Chinese-style colors, patterns, and embroidery seen on many of the Western stars was either much more low-key or even nonexistent in some cases on the Chinese stars’ outfits.
Many Chinese stars had slight China influences in their gowns. For example, supermodel Liu Wen and actress Zhao Wei’s Michael Kors gowns gave a nod to Chinese culture in the patterns and cut of their dresses, while Liu Wen wore jewelry by Kering-owned Chinese jeweler Qeelin. Pop star Li Yuchun, who has a massive cult fan following on Chinese social media, opted for a black Givenchy suit with an understated jacket in a Chinese-style cut. Model Fei Fei Sun opted to wear jade earrings and a Chinese hairstyle instead of incorporating any Chinese elements into her own Michael Kors dress. Actress Ni Ni wore a simple yellow gown by Ralph Lauren, which likely referenced Chinese imperial times with the color but had no discernible Chinese elements.
Some Chinese stars appeared to eschew the China theme altogether. Gao Yuanyuan went all-American with a light blue strapless Michael Kors gown and Tiffany jewelry. Meanwhile, Li Bingbing wore a white two-piece gown by Dior.
The stars who opted for Chinese qipao-influenced dresses, such as event co-host Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, and Carina Lau were also generally reserved. Lau’s black-and-white Schiaparelli dress was inspired by the qipao, while Zhang walked the red carpet in a white Carolina Herrera gown with an embroidered qipao-style top. Gong Li’s red and black Roberto Cavalli gown stitched with Chinese-style embroidery on the back was one of the most obvious Chinese-style outfits of the evening worn by a Chinese star.
The most opulent look worn by a Chinese celebrity belonged to actress Fan Bingbing, who is known for going all out with Chinese-style gowns at international fashion events and was the only Chinese celebrity that went with a Chinese designer. She was outfitted in a gold and green ensemble by her longtime stylist and Chinese designer Christopher Bu, who told Chinese media he was inspired by traditional Chinese architecture.
Not even Fan Bingbing’s look, however, even came close to the most over-the-top outfits worn by Western stars such as Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna (who was the only other major celebrity other than Fan to wear a Chinese designer).
This year’s theme was a tricky one for celebrities, since the theme of the exhibit itself focused on the ways China-related films have influenced Western designers—and these films often contained problematic racial stereotypes. When gauging which American stars kept it tactful and which ones missed the mark, the Chinese celebrities’ gowns make for a good comparison.