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Sculptural Fashion Hits Its Mark at MET Gala 2023

By Erin Moonyeen Haley

Sculptural fashion was the unofficial theme at this year’s MET Gala, rousing stars to cast dramatic silhouettes and hit balletic poses all along the red carpet. So what exactly is sculptural fashion? Just as it sounds, it is when the fabric is treated as though it were marble, concrete, or withering steel; as a material that can harden and solidify and even crystallize into something permanent and intransigent. Rather than allowing the fabric to breathe or fall in messy ripples, sculptural fashion instead transforms the human figure through the art of exaggeration. Like any craft that works via the process of metamorphosis, sculpture fashion designers work with draping, casting, molding and creative cutting, giving their creations a sense of everlasting and immovable integrity.

As French courtier Madame Grès once said, “I wanted to be a sculptor - for me it is just the same to work with fabric or stone.” Best known for her Hellenic dresses with their pleats and panels, Grès’s gowns were prescient to this year’s MET extravaganza where it seemed that a fair number of designers thought of themselves as both craftsmen and artists. Gowns and tuxedos were patterned into shapes and tempered to bodies, with fabric as the ersatz substitute for clay and foam. The result? Looks that were at once Art Deco and Futuristic; styles that hinted at a future of star-studded affairs where wearers molded gowns and suits to the body, negating the use of the casual phrase 'slipped on'.

The bottom line is that sculptural fashion heralds a return to statement fashion. Forget fashion that is sensical or that conforms. Now, it is all about creating a buzz and striking a pose that makes an irrefutable impression.

Ashley Graham in Harris Reed

The va-va-voom stunner took to the red carpet in Harris Reed, wearing a gown that made her feel magnificent and powerful. As for Reed, the designer felt that the build-up to the moment was akin to planning a wedding, where the dress dominates every sundry thing. Reed walked Grazia magazine through the process, from submitting sketches to Anna Wintour to sharing final drafts with the talent de la nuit. (In this case, the charismatic Ashley Graham.)

The result was Graham's pinup figure waltzing down the runway in a Gentlemen-Prefer-Blondes pink satin number with the upper bodice sculpted with black velvet, giving her the look of a topsy-turvy tulip.

Janelle Monáe in Thom Browne

Sculptural performance might be a new medium of fashion and entertainment, all thanks to Janelle Monáe. The singer-actress whore a ribbed hoop skirt beneath a Thom Browne black and white patchwork jacket that aligned itself to Karl Laerfeld's favorite duo of colors.

Her little striptease on the red carpet revealed more decadence beneath, in the form of a black bra top edged with pearly fringe, black panties and a pannier petticoat that gave the entire ensemble a kind of tectonic formidability that is characteristic of structural fashion.


Cardi B channeled a 1960s mod playgirl with her silvery-blond hair that was coiffed and hairsprayed in an immovable flip and styled with only a thick black headband.

Her CHENPENG gown, meanwhile, was a sartorial homage to Lagerfeld and his affinity for his black and white suits. Cardi B worked with stylist Kollin Carter to create a velvet bodice studded with pearls and accented with diamond quilting that was then paired with a white sleeveless button-up shirt and tie. The sweeping ballroom Chanel skirt was sculpted from rubberized camellias that would neither flinch nor fade at any point in the night.

Tems in Robert Wun

Temilade Openiyi, the Nigerian singer/songwriter known professionally as Tems, added whimsy to the red carpet courtesy of a headpiece that balanced the elements of industrial structure with natural caprice. The black corset was adorned with flounces of black feathers that matched the swirls and feathers that danced errantly above her slicked-back coif, while the white skirt draped elegantly behind her in a luxurious train.

Yung Miami in Custom Act N°1

Wrapped in a wealth of tulle, rapper Yung Miami (Caresha Romeka Brownlee) glided across the red carpet in a Custom Act N°1 number.

While the skirt was seductive and sheer, the collar was an upturned masterpiece sculpted in an ostentatious cowl. Her torso, meanwhile, was decorated with various strands of pearls that fell in tiers from belly to thigh. Hitting the red carpet with her longtime paramour, Diddy, the duo complemented each other's theatrics.

Images courtesy of Vogue and Stars' Instagrams


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