Activism at the Met Gala 1 Favorite 



May 1 2017

Now that the dust has settled from the Met Gala, with all the excitement over Kylie Jenner’s bathroom selfie and Rihanna’s body-swallowing Comme des Garçons florals, it is worth pausing to consider a red carpet moment most people missed: the entrance of Joe Gebbia, co-founder and chief product officer of Airbnb, with Yeonmi Park, a North Korean refugee and international refugee activist.

“Refugees and human rights are not really part of our pop culture conversation,” said Ms. Park, who was born in Hyesan, North Korea, in 1993 and fled the country with her family when she was 13. Now living in the United States, Ms. Park, 23, said she “somehow wanted to connect those things” using the industry’s language, which is fashion.

So when Mr. Gebbia — who has spearheaded Airbnb social innovation projects like the Disaster Response Program, which provides temporary housing for displaced people and for relief workers during emergencies — invited her to attend the annual fund-raiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, she accepted.

Both saw Monday evening as an opportunity to gain access to a powerful part of the Hollywood/style nexus — and potentially lobby them for the cause. They suited up in a Balenciaga blazer and Haider Ackermann pants (for him) and a spring 2017 couture Alexis Mabille gown, courtesy of the stylist Renelou Padora (for her), and off they went to celebrate the museum’s exhibition, “Art of the In-Between,” on Rei Kawakubo’s designs for Comme des Garçons.

It was the first Met Gala for both. Ms. Park, who had never seen a fashion magazine in North Korea and was “told what we could and could not wear by the government,” called the experience “difficult to comprehend.”

Reading about it afterward, she said, “I keep seeing who else was there, and thinking, ‘Really, I was there?’”

Ms. Park, who is highly regarded by activists after an array of international speaking engagements, including a TEDx talk and speeches at the Oslo Freedom Forum and One Young World Summit, said she hoped her presence at the gala would, in itself, be a statement and “bring other things to the table” on one of fashion’s most important evenings.

The pair largely shied away from the ordinary protocols of the evening, including public relations blasts announcing their attendance and of-the-minute social media documentation. But they said they used the cocktail period and the seated dinner to talk with other guests about the issue of displaced people. Among those attendees were Wendi Murdoch; Marissa Mayer, the president and chief executive of Yahoo; Anne Wojcicki, an entrepreneur; Joshua Kushner, a well-known investor; Kelly Slater, the professional surfer turned sustainable designer; and Karlie Kloss, an activist supermodel.

According to Mr. Gebbia, who says he “loves fashion, beauty, design and culture above all else,” the idea was “about using that promenade in a meaningful way.” And no one complained, they noted.

“I couldn’t have come to my very first Met Gala in any other way,” Mr. Gebbia said. “Nor could I have found a better way better to honor Rei Kawakubo’s core principles of constant risk-taking and venturing into the unknown in her journey toward artistic breakthrough.”

“It’s only our most unorthodox heroes that give us the confidence to step outside our own comfort zones.”

Posted by Yunfan Li on

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