What the High Fashion Twitter Met Gala Taught Me About Community

What the High Fashion Twitter Met Gala Taught Me About Community

by Samantha Haran

For the most part, fashion as a whole is largely unbothered by being perceived as nothing more than a vicious, cutthroat business — except for one night, of course: the ever-famous Met Gala.

Unlike just about everything else that goes in the industry, the aim of the Met Gala is to be an occasion to commemorate the greater purpose of fashion, beyond just business. After all, what is fashion if not art that is alive? Art that can be worn? A form of expression?

But the question I ask is, whose expression? In the context of the modern fashion landscape, whose thoughts and feelings and dreams are able to be expressed and heard? Especially when there are so many gates locked, bars put up and walls built to keep the majority of us out?

It's something that we think about all the time. By we, I mean the high fashion twitter community, an online subculture made up mostly of people who have never owned a high fashion item in their lives but who have read at least two dozen or so (pirated) fashion books and accumulated a repertoire of knowledge that would put a lot of industry professionals to shame. Last year, a group of 11 of us decided to do something about our frustrations. We decided to throw our very own Met Gala. Because, you know, why not.

Let's start the story at the beginning.

It all began with one tweet.

Oh, and a google form. That oh-so-iconic tweet belongs to Aria Olson (age 20, from Kansas City, US) — the founder of the High Fashion Twitter Met Gala (HFTMG, for short). After birthing the initial idea, she (and her google form) got to work recruiting 10 others from around the world, all aged 15 to 22, to help her pull this off: Alejandra Beltrán (Bogotá, Colombia), Chloe Kennedy (Houston, US), Jana Dragićević (Belgrade, Serbia), Margaux Merz (Ann Arbor, US), Perla Montan (Boston, US), Raebele (Philippines), Rebeca Spitz (Washington, US), Senam Attipoe (Elkridge, US), Sofía Abadi (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and myself, Samantha Haran (Brisbane, Australia). Together, we managed to pull everything off in just a few months.

The structure of our event is, unsurprisingly, a little bit different to the real one. Firstly, it's online. And so it goes as follows: on the day of the HFT Met Gala, participants post their "looks" to twitter using our hashtag. Last year, the dress code was to follow the Met's official theme, About Time: Fashion and Duration. A fitting concept, considering the circumstances we were in.

Given that our mission is to try and open up the floor to as many people as possible, "submitting a look" doesn't require having to go out and buy a gown. Instead, participants can submit entries under any one of our 5 categories: Photoset Creation, Brand Challenge, Wardrobe Styling, Illustration Expression and Open Creativity.

And so, even though the official one did not, our 2020 event went ahead. Not because we were expecting our event to garner much outsider attention, but just because we wanted to do something fun for the community; we wanted to create room for joy. "When everything started in November 2019, we were expecting this to be an event that only reached a small portion of the HF Twitter community," Aria reminisces. "So we had anticipated it being a relatively small event, maybe a hundred people at most. The way that everything took off was really unexpected."

As it turned out, we ended up with over 1000 submissions and 14,000+ tweets with our hashtag in the first 24 hours. Vogue and the New York Times reached out to interview us, and our event was featured in dozens of publications from Time to Dazed, Nylon, Paper and more. We had platforms and brands contacting us and Thom Browne even created a custom look for our founder Aria. In fact, it was about the first time people from the industry had noticed our online community like that. I remember all of us all wondering if we should go back and delete our somewhat slanderous tweets about the big brands now that there was a good chance they might actually see them. (Of course, we decided against this. As the proverb goes, I said what I said.)

This was quite literally both astonishing and completely unexpected for all of us. After all, we're no industry insiders; we're a group of mostly high school and college students who congregate online to discuss the highs and lows of the fashion industry — and most of us aren't even necessarily studying fashion. After all, fashion education is notoriously expensive, and not widely available. In my opinion, this makes for the best part — the diversity of voices, perspectives and personas; the unique fragment of the universe that each person brings.

In our little HFT Met Gala team of 11 alone, we have people studying disciplines as varied as law, engineering and public health. Over time, the 'hf' twitter community has become the birthplace of everything from gorgeously detailed threads to entire magazines, and is now home to the next generation of fashion designers, stylists, commentators, academics and critics, who all have one thing in common— an extraordinary new vision for fashion's future. So yes, we put on the Met Gala for them. As Senam put it, "Seeing everyone's looks on the day of the event was so surreal … our community is really made up of so many incredibly talented people and I feel grateful to be able to witness it. The HFTMG came at the perfect time and I'm glad it was there for people when they needed a creative outlet."

In 2021, we are excited to do this again, and our event is coming up in less than a week! Luckily, it is not too late to sign up and join in. Before you do so, you probably want to know, what is the theme? Usually, the Met's official theme drops around October the year before the Gala. However, this time round, no doubt due to the pandemic, it had reached February and we had yet to hear of any theme announcement.

"As May was fast approaching and the official Met Gala hadn't yet released an official theme, we once again encountered the opportunity to take matters in our own hands," said Alejandra. (The Met has since announced a theme, and their official Gala is set to go ahead in the Fall.) And so, over a couple of Zoom calls and a few existential crises, we created our very own Gala theme: Faces in the Mirror: Fashion and the Horror of Identity. Inspired by evolving selves and strange reflections in the mirror, it examines fashion's relationship with horror through the lens of identity, both self and social.

"At its surface it is a horror theme, but we wanted to concentrate our exploration on psychological horror; the horrors in a person's mind, the dark side hidden in all people," says Rebaele. "Our theme thus ventures into an array of sub-topics, including doubles and reflections, confronting the self and the horrors of capitalism."

This theme, along with the entire event, is very much a product of the pandemic; not only because it is entirely digital, but also because it is fundamentally about connecting with each other and building community. It's about opening a space for people to come together during a time where a lot of us have never felt further apart.

Because of this desire to build and aid the community, following the 2020 event, we decided to try to raise funds for a relevant cause — the International Medical Corps (IMC). In order to do so, we put together an e-book about our HFT Met Gala that included essays on the theme, related runway collection analysis, and highlights from some of our favorite submissions from our event. This year's e-book will be done in partnership with the IMC and include interviews with a lot of incredible voices, including Tansy Hoskins (author of The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion), Shahidha Bari (author of Dressed) and Shakaila Forbes-Bell (founder of Fashion Is Psychology), to name a few. You can pre-order the ebook now by making a small donation to the IMC here.

Well, that's it. That's the story of the High Fashion Twitter Met Gala. I can't even begin to explain how much the experience of coordinating and being a part of this event has taught me. But I will say this. Above all things, the main thing I gained from this experience was a single realization: that "breaking into the industry" is not the end goal at all. We've got all the talent, the vision and the community that we need, right here, in our own little corner of the Internet universe. And frankly, we're tired of trying to beat down and unlock their iron-clad gates.

We don't need their world.

We're building our own.