The Met Ball. May 2014.

Dear Rowley,

The annual Metropolitan Museum gala ball is ostensibly a fund raiser and the opening night of the exhibition du jour: this year a celebration of the remarkable Anglo-American couturier Charles James entitled Beyond Fashion. Of course the true purpose of the Met Ball is for US Vogue editrix Anna Wintour to exercise her power and to give the fashion industry their very own Oscar red carpet moment.

This year old mother Wintour commanded white tie and decorations as the dress code. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the great and good of fashion and film would be inspired by white tie and the maestro of the soufflé silk ball gown Charles James to dazzle us with beauty. What we got was the worst dressed red carpet in history never mind in the history of the Met Ball.

The trouble with most fashion folk is that they just can’t resist breaking the sartorial rules in the pursuit of publicity. What could have possibly possessed Cara ‘Devil Child’ Delevingne to wear clam diggers and a crop top courtesy of Stella McCartney? Miss McCartney was prime suspect in crimes of fashion on the fateful night. She put Rihanna in a white croppy top and floor length skirt that even Gypsy Rose Lee would have thought twice about.

Stella, Cara and Rihanna were papped larking around on the red carpet with Miss M squeezing Riahnna’s bottom. Now I know all about Hollywood lesbian chic. Marlene, Greta and Mercedes were playing that game eighty-years ago. But I would imagine Anna Wintour would take a dim view of such tacky larks and that’s before we even get to the selfies of Cara and Lily Allen in the baby changing rooms. As my teenage niece would say ‘eeeeuwww!’

Katie Holmes wore a rather Charles Jamesian canary yellow taffeta ball gown but had forgotten to comb her hair a la Angie Dickinson. Couldn’t she be bothered to do a chignon? Self-appointed belle of the Met Ball Sarah Jessica Parker seems to have morphed into Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus with a peculiar double bun up-do. Oscar de la Renta is one of my all time favourite couturiers and a worthy successor to James. But to scrawl a signature on Sarah Jessica’s train absolutely ruined a potentially maximal glamorous ball gown.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all up rocks Anne Hathaway in a vintage Valentino black Vampira gown and bleach blonde hair, Lupita Nyong’o in a bizarre tribal mesh and feather Prada, Alexa Chung in a pair of duck egg blue taffeta curtains, Rosie Huntington Whiteley in a leopard print and leather Balmain gladiator tunic and the dismal Kim Kardashian in lumpy petrol blue strapless Lanvin.

Even the pretty gowns such as Taylor Swift’s sugar pink Oscar de la Renta 50s Hollywood goddess dress with elegant train failed to sing because the lady just didn’t know how to strike a pose. She stood there stock still without dropping her hip, doing the over-the-shoulder or negotiating the train like a kitten’s tail. Leave it to the professionals such as model Karen Elson who understands how to wear couture. Her pink Zac Posen gown was a pitch perfect Charles James homage and Elson knew how to walk it out like Dovima or Dorian Leigh.

Stella Tennant barely got a look in with the paparazzi and yet she demonstrated how a 21st century girl wears a couture ball gown with effortlessness and ease. Her strapless silk bustier dress with full feathered powder blue skirt was quite the most sublime dress on show at the Met ball. Chapeau to Burberry designer Christopher Bailey for making the spirit of Charles James relevant to a modern woman. He did an equally good job with a blush pink ruffled ball gown worn by Suki Waterhouse.

Of the Hollywood gals, I always have a soft spot for Amy Adams. She looked divine in a silver satin Oscar de la Renta siren dress that could have been ordered by a Slim Keith, Babe Paley or Millicent Rogers in the golden age of couture in the 40s/50s. Anna Wintour seems terribly keen to attract the new and the now to the Met ball but at the cost of the true Hollywood beauties such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and even vintage models such as Lauren Bacall.

Madonna missed a trick. She posted an Instagram selfie of she with bandages wrapped round her breasts joking that Anna Wintour vetoed her costume. What she should have done was raid the Evita costume collection and appear in a knockout 50s Dior in homage to Charlie James and put the youngsters dressed like ‘ho’s’ to shame. One usually looks to a fashion plate like Kirsten Dunst to raise the barre. She didn’t: opting instead for a peculiar Rodarte dress printed with a digital image of the Death Star from The Empire Strikes Back.

The Met Ball seems to confirm my suspicion that the fashion industry is entering a chaotic end of an era decadence. If US Vogue cannot dictate how an elite guest list of fashionistas dresses then there isn’t much hope that it or any other magazine can influence how the world’s women dress as Vogue used to before t’Internet took away its power. What I wouldn’t give to have heard Charles James give his verdict on the red carpet arrivals at the Met Ball 2014. I’d imagine him with a Craig Revel-Horwood accent drawling ‘Aaaaabsolute fashion disaaaaaster daaaarling’. Until next time…