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The Message Behind Riz Ahmed’s Met Gala Workwear

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Ahmed’s unconventional white tie look is “a love letter to immigrant workers.”

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 02: Riz Ahmed attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)Jeff Kravitz

Plenty of the men in attendance at tonight’s Met Gala red carpet delivered on the theme (“Gilded Glamour”) and the dress code (white tie), wearing coattails and top hats that embodied the expressive elegance of New York high society at the turn of the century. One notable exception? Riz Ahmed, who hit the red carpet in double-knee pants, an overshirt, and a tank top. Where many guests complimented their looks with Gilded Age accessories such as top hats, canes, and white bow ties, Ahmed wore a Cartier necklace reminiscent of Indian Hyderabadi jewelry. The most striking finishing touch, though, was the white shoelace—cribbed from a pair of Vans—Ahmed wore as a belt.

The look, conceived by NYC-based label 4SDESIGNS and the stylist Julie Ragolia, might have seemed off-theme at first glance. But as Ahmed explained before he headed to the Met, it was all about highlighting the other side of the Gilded Age. “This is about celebrating and canonizing and glorifying those people behind the scenes, those people that gilded the Gilded Age,” he explained over the phone shortly before hitting the red carpet.

Riz Ahmed in a 4SDESIGNS set, Cartier jewelry, and vintage boots from the 1950s.

Jeff Kravitz

The Gilded Age, of course, saw enormous amounts of wealth generated in New York City, much of it from the labor of immigrant workers. Which, Ahmed points out, sounds a lot like what’s happening today, too: “Part of what I really value about this place are the waves of immigrants and workers that have kind of kept this city running, whether it was before in the Gilded Age or now in its new Gilded Age, or during the pandemic,” he said. “And so this is in many ways a bit of a love letter to those blue collar workers, those immigrant workers” who keep the city running.

The look came together quickly, even by the Met Gala’s fast-paced standards. Ragolia got the call a week and a half ago that Ahmed needed a Met fit. Luckily, she had no doubt of the direction to go: “Riz and I have been working together for a few years, and we have a similar viewpoint about fashion and culture,” Ragolia said. Similar viewpoints, too, about the messages Ahmed wants to express through fashion. They both want people outside of the sometime-cloistered fashion world to see themselves in Ahmed’s outfits, for one. “I wanted to do something respectful of the theme but unexpected… As a stylist I want to tell stories that go beyond the surface and speak about those that are not usually given a voice,” Ragolia said. And they both like to provoke and stimulate conversation, too. “I like to break boundaries and break the internet when I can,” she added. As soon as Ahmed hit the red carpet, Twitter lit up with praise for the unconventional look. Mission accomplished!

When Ragolia landed on the idea for workwear white-tie, her immediate instinct was to call Angelo Urrutia, the New York-based designer who founded 4SDESIGNS in early 2020 after a long tenure at Engineered Garments. Ragolia sensed Urrutia and Ahmed would hit it off immediately, on a personal and sartorial level. “It just felt right,” said Ragolia. Urrutia, having emigrated from El Salvador with his family as a child, is an independent designer of the type that doesn’t often get a piece of the Met Gala’s megawatt spotlight. But that’s not because he isn’t a technician—in fact, he’s an expert at elevating prosaic silhouettes with majestic fabrics, such as the heavy wool-silk faille he used to craft Ahmed’s suit. The top, Urrutia explained via email, is a workshirt adapted from his current collection. The bottoms, perhaps the first pair of double-knee pants to ever grace the Met Gala red carpet, are Urrutia’s take on the classic American silhouette, only “done with a more tailored shape and break.” When Riz and I spoke, he was a few days from trying the 4SDESIGNS look on, but he was already enamored with the partnership. “Angelo is amazing,” he said. “When Julie first told me about him and what he’s doing, it just felt right.”

Their Met Gala look is part of a years-long collaboration between Ahmed and Ragolia that has birthed several of the most interesting red carpet moments in recent years, including the custom Prada kurta he wore to the premiere of Encounter last year. “I love the idea of taking clothing from one context and putting it into another,” Ahmed says. “So much of what me and Julie talk about is clothing as identity. A big part of my own journey and my own work is thinking about when you can bring more of yourself to the table. What side of yourself you are supposed to bring into one room and not another. And so to that end, part of what our work has been about has been blurring those boundaries. About smuggling hidden parts of yourself into the room and revealing them.”

The 4SDESIGNS idea was a perfect apotheosis of their shared project, says Ahmed. “Taking a kind of workwear look onto the red carpet for the Met makes a lot of sense given the through-line of all the work we’ve been doing together, taking things out of context and making them right. It’s very much about being an outsider and being out of place, and yet when you own that look and bring it into the room when you may not be expected to, it actually stretches the room.”

Though Ahmed’s low-key look was one of the more talked about of the night, he isn’t interested only in dressing to generate discourse. The meaning behind his moments, Ahmed explains, is as much for himself as for others. “If it sparks any conversation about what we’re referencing and what we’re celebrating and who we’re celebrating, then I welcome that. But I guess more and more I wear clothes less to spark conversations among others and more to kind of feel whole in myself. For me, you know?”

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