On Instagram, celebrities like Hailey Baldwin, Kendall Jenner, and Emily Ratajkowski are mourning the cancellation of the Met Gala, posting memories of their past looks on the famed museum’s steps. But over on Twitter, the party is in full swing.
As reported by The New York Times, a group of young women are hosting a 24-hour HF Twit Met Gala, encouraging any and all users to join in the festivities. This virtual first Monday in May has been in the works since November, when a 19 year-old University of Michigan aerospace engineering student named Aria Olson decided to host an online Met Gala for members of “hft,” or high fashion twitter (the lower case lettering is theirs).
In the same way that Meryl Streep, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Emma Stone were to co-chair the actual event, which is helmed by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Olson chose 10 fellow enthusiasts to serve as coordinators. As Vogue reported, the full team consists of Alejandra Beltran, Chloe Kennedy, Jana Dragićević, Margaux Merz, Perla Montan, Raebele, Rebeca Spitz, Samantha Haran, Senam Attipoe, and Sofía Abadi. None are older than 22. The youngest, Dragićević, is 15.
Their rules: interested participants could create their own Met Gala looks by piecing together photos from different brands, curating styles from a specific label randomly assigned by the coordinators, sketching a design, or shopping their closet to come up with an outfit. Over 9,000 people follow the Twitter account, with a stream of users posting their ensembles.
“I remember there was a time in the early days of planning that we were so worried about disengagement that we thought we’d all have to tweet every 30 minutes just to keep the event alive,” Samantha Haran, a 21 year-old coordinator from Queensland, Australia, told The Daily Beast. “But no, the engagement has been insane. The amount of effort people have put in is truly blowing us away.”
The New York designer Thom Browne, who dressed Cardi B in a quilted crimson gown for last year’s Met Gala, mailed Olson her own outfit for the day. Through a representative, Browne sent a statement that read, “I thought it would be interesting to dress Aria because she is everything that is inspiring to me: an intelligent person who is engaged in the world and is true to herself.”
In an email, Haran wrote that she’s been “mentally living in the EST time zone these past few weeks,” and has been awake “since 6 am [on Sunday]” preparing and doing interviews. She hopes this virtual Met Gala isn’t a one-off.
“The concept was never to replace the Gala, but rather to provide a more accessible and inclusive way for the greater public to celebrate it,” Haran added. “You can think of it as a supplementary event intended to shift the focus away from the rich and famous, and back towards art and fashion—the goal was always the democratization of otherwise very gate-kept fashion industry.”
Last year, GQ’s Rachel Tashijian wrote that hf twitter (as the group styles itself) “is intent on plucking fashion down from its icy perch.” Now, said perch has propped the online Met Gala up, with coverage in old-guard publications like Vogue.
“It’s. . .put us in a strange position,” Haran wrote. “That being said, keeping our integrity throughout the process has been integral to our mission. Whilst it’s been incredible receiving this attention, we have been very mindful to be transparent about the nature of HF Twitter—because it’s something we’re genuinely proud of. The raw honesty you get on Twitter is something you won’t find elsewhere in fashion journalism—after all, we’re not being paid.”
Do not confuse hf twitter’s Met Gala with Instagram’s #MetGalaChallenge, put on by Vogue and starring celebrities and other influencers recreated famous outfits from past parties. (See: Mindy Kaling doing her best Jared Leto impression.)
“The problem I had with Vogue was the fact that they pretended this was their idea first,” Chalukya Samarawickrama, a 23 year-old in her final year at London College of Fashion, said. “Because they’re so big, normal people who aren’t on Twitter or anything would think it’s their idea.”
Still, those involved in hf twitter feel celebratory, even hopeful, today. “The people who run this industry have their own view on things, but then our generation and younger, we see it so differently,” Samarawickrama said. “It’s great and it shows how creativity can be manifested. To be a part of it ourselves, I think this is the best Met Gala that ever happened.”
As Andrea García Meza, a 20 year-old from Mexico who attends university in Montreal, said, “This event feels less elitist and [is] a way to show that fashion is for everyone.”
Dan Julius, a USC student quarantining at home in the Bay Area, it feels like hf twitter is leading a “cultural shift.”
Julius, 20, marked the day by enlisting his twin sister to take photos of him modeling in their living room. He wore a Givenchy shirt “printed with an illustration of the Greek myth of Icarus,” a navy suit, Dior sneakers, and his mother’s jewelry. “I felt like a futuristic rockstar meets high fashion Apollo,” Julius wrote over a direct message. “After wearing little else but sweatpants and hoodies for the duration of quarantine, it was exhilarating to transform into a totally different version of myself.”
Like many members of hf twitter, Julius wants to separate fashion from the celebrity world. “I think someone at home wearing a garment they designed/assembled from scratch holds infinitely more artistic significance than, say, Kylie Jenner’s in a custom gown and purple wig. That’s essentially just a business deal; a mutual jerk-off session between brand and celebrity disguised as something remarkable.”
One hf twitter Met Gala participant who goes by the artist name of Kumquat made his own rainbow ball gown from six different vintage fabrics. It took the 23-year-old from Pearland, Texas, a week to make. “It’s my first time making something this size completely from scratch,” he said. “I love how the look has a very theatrical aspect to it.”
Mara Madden, 19, is an art history student from England. She slept in rollers on Sunday night to ensure she woke up for the Met Gala with 1930s curls to fit with her theme of “transcend[ing[ time.” She actually chose to wear two different dresses, in honor of Lady Gaga, who pulled off a memorable outfit change/striptease last year.
One English participant named Mary, who asked that her last name stay private, “wanted to mix [her] Ghanian culture with traditional European culture,” so she sketched a kente pattern onto the silhouette of an 18th century French court dress. “I worked on [the drawing] for about a month in between exam revision,” she said.
Wungmi Shaiza, a 19 year-old from New Delhi, India, found inspiration for a dress and blazer look “from a mix of 60s Givenchy, old Hollywood, and queer fatale.” The outfit was also inspired by Audrey Hepburn, who would have turned 91 on Monday. “I wanted to mix and achieve a look that was androgynous but still glamour,” Shaiza said. “I love that I created the look without spending any money. Everything I wore I already have in my closet.”
The hf twitter event may have gone on for 24 hours, but at 6pm New York time another not-the-Met Gala event materialized. Vogue’s “A Moment With the Met” hit YouTube. The short film began showing sepia toned-footage of celebrities celebrating at the museum; it looked archival even though it was taken only a year ago.
Editor-at-large Hamish Bowles provided the voiceover for a history of the event, his posh British voice narrating a highlight reel about the “Party of the Year.” Then Anna Wintour appeared onscreen in an unfussy black and white mock-neck top. She took off her famous black-rimmed glasses and made a plea for donations to Vogue’s Common Thread fund for fashion relief, and the Met’s Costume Institute.
“I find myself at home, like most of you,” Wintour said, sitting in front of an antique desk with fresh flowers on the tabletop. She welcomed Florence Welch to perform from her living room, and the singer launched into “You’ve Got the Love” while wearing a white silk dress and flexing her marble fireplace and deer-printed wallpaper.
Cardi B made a surprise appearance, saying she, like everyone else, wished the Met Gala was on this year. “I didn’t have my outfit ready, but we had something really cooking,” the rapper admitted, her hair in loose curls and stiletto-long pink nails in frame. Cardi promised to be back next year, asked for donations, and introduced Virgil Abloh’s DJ set, which she called “the after party.”
Abloh performed from what appeared to be a white-walled, windowless room, spinning a set that included David Bowie, Michael Jackson, James Brown, JJ Jackson, Prince, and Talking Heads. A tracker on the page kept score of how many tuned in: around 9,000 viewers, a number that dwindled down to around 6,500 as the performance went on. Instead of seeing any fashion, we got an insider’s look at Abloh’s light-up DJ equipment. He wore a black hoodie for the occasion.
On Instagram, Abloh wrote, “My big idea at the top of the year was to throw a downtown crazy after party tonight after the real MET to balance the energy. . .I’m djing at 6pm EST playing what I would play if we were at Beatrice or Paul’s Baby Grand tonight-night.”
He finished off his caption with a statement not unlike one the leaders of hf twitter might choose as a rallying cry: “It’s chill, let everyone in. . .”