Met gala AI
An AI generated image inspired by this years Met Gala

The Met Gala 2024: a real life dystopia?

This year’s Met Gala proved to be dystopian in more ways than one. While the dress code may have been based on the sci-fi short story The Garden of Time, it was not so much the invasion of the mob in the original tale as the invasion of AI-generated images online which sparked conversation. 

Dystopia level one: sci-fi

Belonging to the sci-fi genre, The Garden of Time features dystopian elements in abundance, including themes of environmental destruction, warped temporality and apocalyptic class conflict. Celebrity attendees interpreted the literary-inspired dress code with varying levels of inventiveness and success. 

The obvious place to start is, of course, with Zendaya, whose outfits (yes, plural) were certainly dystopian, even prompting commentators to draw parallels with the fashion donned by members of the Capitol in The Hunger Games series. Zendaya’s style ranged from a black villain-era gown and bouquet headpiece to a shimmering trumpet-shaped dress, diagonally striped with sapphire and emerald. Both looks were intensified with deathly makeup representing the darker, semi-apocalyptic tones of Ballard’s story, and the morbid fate that awaits its central characters, Count Axel and the Countess, who ultimately turn to stone.

Some celebs took a more obvious route by using florals to represent the Garden of Time. While this may seem far from groundbreaking, certain individuals did succeed in creating dazzling looks. Alia Bhatt’s saree particularly stood out for its elaborate detail, gentle colour palette, and long, semi-translucent train. In an Instagram post, Bhatt explained: “Nothing embodies tradition and innovation like the saree […] We looked to the past as a guide for the future […] Our colour palette pays homage to nature’s beauty, echoing the earth, sea and sky.”

Others specifically sought to imitate the glass-like ‘time flowers’ which feature so significantly in The Garden of Time. Among the more impressive representations was Elle Fanning’s crystalline Balmain gown, which renders the delicacy and translucency of the flowers, set to disappear in a burst of light at any moment. 

Zendaya’s style ranged from a black villain-era gown and bouquet headpiece to a shimmering trumpet-shaped dress, diagonally striped with sapphire and emerald.

A more abstract interpretation culminated in Tyla’s sand sculpture dress – coupled with a sand-timer bag – representing the theme of ephemerality. Phoebe Dynevor’s soft lilac dress, meanwhile, captured the beauty, delicacy and fragility of the Garden of Time, a space which teeters on the brink of extinction. Barry Keoghan embodied the old-age wealthy elegance of the aristocratic Count Axel, with a velvety, steampunk-esque Burberry suit featuring three watches in a nod to Axel’s preoccupation with buying time.

A discussion of Met Gala fashion would surely be incomplete without a Kardashian mention. It’s true that Kim’s outfit drew confusion due to the pairing of glinting metals with a grey cardigan. This clash of soft and harsh textures does, however, arguably fit into the narrative of The Garden of Time, with its presentation of the conflict between opposing forces like nature and industry, the aristocracy and the working class.

Dystopia level two: artificial intelligence

Katy Perry’s dress was among the most dazzling looks at the Met Gala. Or at least, it would have been, had it been real. Not only was the dress an AI invention, but Katy did not actually grace the event with her presence at all. Embroidered with 3D flowers and butterflies, the computer-generated ball gown spilled out into a moss-green, luxurious fur edging. It certainly would have stolen the show – might this be a case of AI outdoing us? In an Instagram post, Katy admitted that her own mother was fooled by the image. Interestingly, the platform chose to flag the post as altered, though the necessity of this action surely speaks for itself.

We live in a world fixated on image, and this is encapsulated by the Met Gala, a media-heavy event flooding platforms with unbelievably beautiful celebrities in unbelievably expensive costumes. Incidentally, this is just one of the reasons why I don’t have – and have never had – Instagram. The FOMO is in large part counteracted by a sense of freedom from a wall of perfect images which only ever tell half the story. Anyway, while it is encouraging to see creativity in design and textiles being championed at the Met Gala, this ultimate symbol of the valorisation of outward appearances can be problematic. The unrealistic, miniscule waist promoted by Kim Kardashian, for instance, has not escaped notice.

We live in a world fixated on image, and this is encapsulated by the Met Gala, a media-heavy event flooding platforms with unbelievably beautiful celebrities in unbelievably expensive costumes

Already, editing images on social media platforms perpetuates false beauty standards for men and women alike. But now that AI can manipulate images, they truly are more unreal than ever. The particularly dangerous part is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell whether an image is genuine or AI-generated. The implications of this for misinformation and fake news start to seem dizzying. In light of this, dystopian shows like The Capture – imagining a digital world overwhelmed by real-time deepfakes – take on new appeal, seeming more eerily possible than ever before. 

The rate at which AI is influencing public life, from social media to academia and the workplace hints that it may be an unstoppable force – rather like the approaching horde which draws nearer to the Count and Countess’ fragile haven, day by day, in The Garden of Time. It truly does sound like the stuff of dystopian fiction.