The Met Gala serves enough fashion fodder for weeks. Scratch that, for years. We’re still referencing Rihanna’s 2015 floor-kissing gown when we talk about Lil Nas X’s fur cape from two nights ago. Years down the line, we’ll still be stumbling across memes generated from that time Kim Kardashian walked down the red carpet in an all-black look, her ode (courtesy Balenciaga) to the ‘basic’ T-shirt.
The Met Gala theme this year didn’t look too far from its own proverbial backyard, the place and country where it all started. ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion’ was a complicated and layered proposition, raising several key questions that are topical and not too far removed from reality today. What is American fashion? What does it mean to be American? With that, some designers and their muses brought totems of American fashion to the red carpet.
Think Timothée Chalamet’s converse kicks and Lupita Nyong’o’s denim gown. While others looked to richly demonstrated historical moments, like Tory Burch who invoked Claire McCardell, the 1940s American designer pivotal in revolutionizing sportswear. Her muse for the night, Indian-American producer, actor, director and screenwriter, Mindy Kaling, leaned into the assignment—to recall American fashion in all its glory, wearing a supremely elegant silk dress with a high-low hemline, deep V-neck and cinching leather waist belt.
Mindy Kaling wearing Tory Burch at the Met Gala 2021 MIKE COPPOLA
Kaling can serve a slay-worthy look, we know this much. Remember when she referenced Donatella Versace in her platinum blonde and gold Moschino dress in 2019? With a gem-encrusted crown in 2018 for the theme ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’. The list is long, and the moments are meta.
“I admire how Mindy has shaped her own career path and constantly challenges herself,” says Tory Burch on their second Met Gala red-carpet association in five years. “She has introduced a new and much-needed perspective through her movies and shows, using humour to break down stereotypes and reframe how South Asians are typically viewed in Western media. That is critical right now and something we need more of.”
And to think it all started with a tweet. Scroll through for a Vogue India exclusive conversation with Mindy Kaling and Tory Burch on their coming together for the red carpet and why American fashion has always been determinedly diverse.
Mindy Kaling at the pre-event cocktail party at Tory Burch's apartment NOA GRIFFEL
It’s not your first time collaborating with each other. The famous tweet that brought you two together: “I love you Tory Burch, you closeted bling-loving Indian woman you.”, started a strong designer-muse relationship over the years. Tell us more about coming together for creative projects over the years.
Mindy Kaling: Tory loves colour and her signature tunics remind me of Indian kurtas! She also feels like family, so she’s basically Indian now. My admiration for Tory has grown from loving her work as a designer to seeing how much she does for women with her foundation. Most designers don’t think that way. Moreover, she has also supported me through every stage of my career — she threw the book party for my first book. Tory was one of the first designers to make beautiful clothes for women of all sizes, that’s the real mark of inclusivity.
Tory Burch: Mindy’s Tweet is committed to my memory! I had never met her at the time, but I knew we would be friends immediately. She has a quick wit and finds joy in any situation which is infectious. Mindy can make anything beautiful. In 2016, for the Manus x Machina theme, she wore a dress with multi-pixel technology. This year, she looks incredible in the classic navy and black dress. She loves the creative process, tries new things and knows what looks great on her. The first time she saw the first sketch for this dress, she knew it was the one.
The sketch of Mindy Kaling's Met Gala dress inspired by Claire McCardell
What’s your interpretation of this year’s theme?
MK: When I think of quintessential American designers, Tory is at the top of that list. Working with her on this was a dream. The dress is strong and sexy, and features her signature colour, Tory Navy, which she has made into a modern classic American colour.
TB: We were inspired by the ingenuity of Claire McCardell, a 1940s American designer who revolutionized the way women dress with clothes that were both elegant and practical. There is beautiful silk shantung and pared-back details that speak back to this year’s theme, American Independence. We interpreted some of McCardell’s signature details, like hook-and-eye closures on Mindy’s belt.
Mindy, we hear it takes an army to get ready for the gala. Who’s part of your troop and how do you prep yourself for the night?
MK: If you grew up loving fashion, the Met Gala is everything. The vibe before a big event needs to be chill, friendly and fun. I cannot handle big personalities or dramatic people while getting ready for an event. I love my team, they are so talented but also FUNNY. Janice Kinjo does my makeup, Marc Mena is my hair stylist, and assistant, Elena Dole. We have sushi, a green juice, laugh, and listen to Beyoncé while we get to it. I also always see my friend Joanna Vargas, who does her magic facials and makes my skin look amazing.
Dream Met Gala dinner guest list?
MK: I sat across from Stephen Colbert at a Met Gala and that was hard to beat. I would love to sit next to Andrew Bolton, the chief curator at the Costume Institute. Or Trevor Noah!
Tory, what do you tell Mindy as she’s about to step onto the red carpet?
TB: The last thing I need to do is give Mindy tips. There’s no one better.
Mindy, what do you tell yourself?
MK: Do not trip on those stairs!