Cover Quannah Chasinghorse (Photo: Getty Images)

In line with their American-centric slogan “In America, A Lexicon Of Fashion” this year, the Met Gala event attempts to bring a more culturally-diverse and inclusive set of American identities, but one might question if it was truly representative of all minorities

The long-awaited inclusion of Native American model Quannah Chasinghorse at the Met Gala 2021 lineup had all of us squirming in our seats as we watched her storm into the Gala fashion scene with her outfit’s celebration of iconic Navajo turquoise jewellery and gold lamé dress with chain accents that highlights a kind of Native empowerment and awakening of Native American fashion.

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This year, the Met Gala ran with the theme, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” and there was a greater representation of different cultures and ethnicities that make up the melting pot and social fabric of the United States.

With a dream team of culturally significant co-chairs such as Amanda Gorman, Timothée Chalamet, Naomi Osaka, and Billie Eilish put in place, there was a great expectation that we would be able to see more personalities and celebrities of colour that could inspire and empower minority communities and individuals out there.

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Chasinghorse, a 19-year-old IMG model of Hän Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota background, worked together with designer Peter Dundas to create a look that showcased her Native American heritage and to highlight the underrated beauty of Native art and culture in fashion. Dundas told Vogue, “I love how she makes her heritage such a strong part of her visual identity, which I realise we are missing in fashion.”

The gold dress not only gives her a goddess-like stature with the ethereal effect of heavenly wings from the billowing cape, but it also does not take the limelight away from the real stars of the show: Navajo turquoise and silver jewellery—an important cultural signature of the tribe.

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In the effort to ensure proper representation of her culture, Chasinghorse worked with stylist Tabitha Simmons to include Indigenous heritage pieces like her Navajo turquoise pieces that she loaned from her aunt Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw—a former Miss Navajo Nation. Her aunt’s personal jewellery collection features Navajo artists from across the Southwest.

“It’s extremely important to represent and bring authentic and true American culture to this year’s theme, as Native American culture has been appropriated and misrepresented in fashion so many times,” says Chasinghorse. “Reclaiming our culture is key—we need to show the world that we are still here, and that the land that everyone occupies is stolen Native land.”

While the Met Gala is taking steps to shine a spotlight on the various cultural identities of the American fabric, there was still a lack of representation of Muslim designers and hijab-donned models in the event.

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In an article on The Cut, Noor Tagouri expressed her dismay at the lack of Muslim representation in the lineup of over 100 designers and models. 

Tagouri explained how only people of colour can truly understand the interrogation of how American one can be as minority individuals are always seen as outsiders and how there are unrealistic expectations that minority people have to meet in order to be respected and celebrated by the fashion industry.

“Many of us are familiar with the torn feeling of being chosen to be “in the room” and still not being respected for who you actually are when you are standing in it. When you are no longer convenient to the narrative being told, you go back to being discarded and invisible to “them”,” Tagouri told The Cut.

““Them” refers to the institutions—art museums, media publications, tech companies curating algorithms, brands that decide whom to invite to which event or onto what campaign depending on what makes for the best marketing right now—that take up the role of defining to the rest of society whom and what we need to be paying attention to.”

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Outside the Met Gala, the fashion world has seen Muslim models like Somali-American model Halima Aden shine as the first hijab-wearing high-fashion model to appear on the runways, the first to sign with IMG Models, the first to grace the cover of an American beauty magazine, and the first to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA competition.

She has also walked in several runway shows, including Max Mara, Alberta Ferretti, and Yeezy Season 5, and she changed the women's sports attire game by appearing in Nike’s ad campaign wearing a sports hijab.

In this culturally eclectic and beautifully diverse world that we live in, it is only right and respectful that we highlight the many distinct cultures, ethnicities and heritages that are steeped in history and civilisation. 

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