How Paloma Elsesser Made Old Hollywood Glamour Her Own at the Met Gala

Paloma Elsesser is rewriting what the American icon looks like. That was the inspiration behind the show stopping  Zac Posen gown she wore earlier this week to the Met gala, which has been celebrated on best-dressed lists and blessed all of us with the flawless silhouette of the supermodels’ perfectly cinched form. From concept to red carpet, the look came together in two weeks, driven by a desire to showcase both timeless Hollywood glamour and modern beauty.

“I think the modern American icon is a reclamation of what I look like, and is a person who is in control of who they are and who they want to be,” Elsesser says. “That could be messy, that can be undefined, and that can be imperfect. I’m in constant commitment to rewriting the rules that I was indoctrinated into thinking were the right one. And I’m still learning, which is why I’m like, I don’t know if I’m an icon, but it is a profound gift to be a visible person.”

Courtesy of Paloma Elsesser

The decision to work with Posen was the obvious choice to both Elsesser and stylist Carlos Nazario, who started by asking, “Who is the American designer who absolutely adores women in every facet of the word and the creation, in the commentary and the overall composition,” according to Elsesser. The apple-red duchess satin dress is a clear homage to the great Charles James, whose dresses celebrated the curves of the female form with corsetry and sculptural skirts, a reference point that Posen perfectly captured with this dress in the plunging V-shaped bodice. It took three people to cinch Elsesser into the corset. Elsesser likens the experience to that of a contortionist. “Yes there were the Audrey Hepburns of that time, but there were also the Marilyn’s—it was really a celebration and care for the softness, femininity, and beauty of the female form.”

Never one to play it safe on a red carpet, Elsesser wanted to find a balance between the almost-too-perfect look of Hollywood glamour, the luxury and ornateness of that historic period, and her own sense of “a little bit strange” style. To do so, she wore her finger-wave hairstyle teased back, crimson eyeshadow that swept up past her eyebrows, and Ana Khouri ruby, diamond and white gold earrings. One of her favorite details of the dress was the tea-stained tulle added to the train of the dress, giving it even more dimension and substance. 

Elsesser noted how meaningful it was to see the body diversity at the event—Precious Lee, Barbie Ferreira, and Nikkie de Jager all commanded attention in body-contouring gowns—and how surreal it felt to be sitting with Lee inside the event. “It was just this magical moment of being like, ‘we’re meant to be here, but holy shit, we’re sitting at the Met gala with comfort and ease, and we are meant to be here.’ It’s really powerful and it’s really important.” 

Above, watch how Posen, Elsesser, and Nazario made the dream dress a reality. 

Directed by Danielle Aphrodite

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