Keeping Up with the Kontours of Fame
Making sense of the Kardashians as a Black woman from the Hudson Valley.
Kim Kardashian West attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021, in New York City. (Getty)
On a Monday in September, one of the most instantly recognizable figures of the 21st century wore a t-shirt to Anna “This Old Thing?” Wintour’s Met Gala and the internet and fashion worlds collectively lost their shit. Of course, the t-shirt in question was Balenciaga--a luxury Spanish-French fashion haus whose name was so ubiquitous on the night of the fall ball that I wondered if Balenciaga roughly translated to Banana Republic in Capitolese. Would they be sponsoring Catnis in this year’s Hunger Games too? It was also hilarious given the theme of this year’s ball was American identity and how we defined it. What did it say that almost no one wore an American designer if they stuck to the theme or even seemed aware there was one?
Maybe you could argue such a paradox is super American and perfect. Kinda like KeKe Palmer who, as Virgos are wont to do, nailed it with a look inspired by American fashion icon Diana Ross. Some might fall prey to overdoing the wig or the sequins when paying homage to our Mahogany matriarch, but Palmer’s team interpreted Ross for 2021 as seamlessly as her Sergio Hudson gown fit her. Properly-executed glam takes a village, y’all and Palmer’s squad ate the assignment. Keke looked gawjus. Her co-host, Ilana Glazer, did too in a nude/blush camo gown with whimsical sleeves designed by Jason Rembert of Aliette that looked comfortably chic. Fresh off of delivering a small human to the world, she reminded me of what it would be like if your favorite friend to get stoned with who now gets high off of life and a good loose-leaf chai was on the mic. Her mellow chill was at times a see-saw energetically paired with Palmer’s plugged-in effervescence, but because most of us were watching on Twitter or dealing with glitchy streaming on our laptops, it added to the cable-access-for-cool-kids-at-Fashion Festivus-not-for the-rest-of-us of it all.
For the uninitiated — I feel like I’m talking to half of The Examiner newsroom here — understand, this is like the Rose Bowl or Thanksgiving Day Parade for fashion freaks, even lapsed ones like yours truly come home to the Church of Vogue to pay tithe in the form of latent self-loathing and man-hours on a Monday night of all nights to the bold-faced names that offer us the spark of fantasy and wearable art that is fashion and celebrity at its highest vibration and most inspirational. When you’re living the life I live a kind of self-imposed impoverished existence from gig to gig in favor of freedom over security; when you’re Black in 2021, even a privileged green-eyed Lisa Turtle like me, it’s hard to take fashion as seriously as I used to because I am processing such heavy things all the time. And whenever I check back in with the “real world,” as it’s narrowcasted to us today by our handheld overlords (aka smartphones), every headline is scary. I’ve started screencapping some of my notification screens with an odd sense that I might be able to leave it behind for whoever comes after us as a kind of flipbook documentation of our end for when it is our turn to be discussed with feckless hindsight the way we do Easter Island today. But then Kanye tells Kim to go out there in that all-American gimp meets dementor french t-shirt dress on Anna Wintour’s white carpet that we are all calling red because programming is real, and I’m in love and inspired and entertained to gawking all over again.
Because it wasn’t just a dress to make memes out of, guys. It was a statement, a powerful black af statement, about fame and being famous made by a black af man who arguably is living in the upside-down using the surgically-contoured body of a woman who owes her megastardom to a sex tape, hawked wares, and her mother’s machiavellian marketing genius as canvas.
Because it wasn’t just a dress to make memes out of, guys. It was a statement, a powerful black af statement, about fame and being famous made by a black af man who arguably is living in the upside-down using the surgically-contoured body of a woman who owes her megastardom to a sex tape, hawked wares, and her mother’s machiavellian marketing genius as canvas. In his feature film-length music video Runaway, which beautifully picks up the torch passed by MJ’s Moonwalker musical film anthology, Kanye brings a fallen angel to a dinner of tuxedoed elites who shun his winged plus-one. Don’t get it twisted, the album and the song Runaway are about his failed relationship with stripper-turned-female empowerment influencer Amber Rose, but you can see the same scenario playing out here as Kim has spoken candidly about her naked desire to attend the Fashion Oscars as the Met ball is known and Anna Wintour’s one-time refusal to make Kim a Vogue cover girl was no secret. Kim finally did score that cover and her first invite to the ball only because of her relationship to Kanye West, by then an accepted member of the fashion elite vs Kim who was then seen as no more worthy to attend an event with these so-called elites than your favorite Real Housewife would be. Shout out to Nene Leakes who I nominate to co-host w/ Keke and Ilana next year.
But this September, Kim’s star has risen to such great heights that Kanye could remove himself from the frame completely, opting instead to speak to us via the vessel of his personal Venus. Even though hers couldn’t be seen, everyone’s eyes were on Kim. As Kanye’s dark-winged phoenix, she stood still to be captured by the wall of cameras trained on what seemed like the cutout of her famous silhouette in space as much as the stretchy fabric emphasized it. Slowly making her ascension up those storied Metropolitan Museum steps long forked train snaking behind her, it occurred to me that this was at once an eff you to fame and a demonstration of its power. It spoke to the American obsession to the point of fetishization with physical beauty at whatever cost even if it’s the most fleeting kind. At a time when masks have become another outlet for the fashionable to express their fabulosity, it figures that Kimye would hit us with a mask to unmask us all.
Ani Wilmot is a native of the Bronx and ex-pat of Westchester County. She gave up ambition for destiny because she could steal, but she could not rob. These days, she likes to work as little as possible, preferably in sight of a large body of water like the Hudson River. She covers hidden/lost histories of the Hudson Valley and American culture. Keep up with Ani's adventures in reporting on the American wild here.