Lewis Hamilton’s Met Gala statement gave rising Black designers a seat at the table

Lewis Hamilton paid for a table at the Met Gala, as three emerging Black designers showcased their talent in the fashion industry’s night of the year.

The 2021 Met Gala revolved around ‘American Independence,’ a theme that lent itself for activism on the red carpet and meaningful takes on what it means to be American. Amidst textual ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ and ‘Tax the Rich’ messages, Lewis Hamilton opted to buy a whole table to uplift rising Black talent. Commemorating the moment on social media, he wrote “the goal is, and always will be, to open doors for young Black creatives.”

The British Formula 1 champion has made his interest in fashion evident in the past. He is no stranger to the global fashion week calendar and has collaborated with brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Balenciaga. Unlike other attendants, he has shown up in previous galas in something else other than a plain black suit and white shirt. Now a champion of creativity, Hamilton chose Kenneth Nicholson, one of his three sponsored guests, for his lace-detailed Met Gala look this year. 

Hamilton sported a satin shirt and lace mesh skirt layered over a classical black suit. Nicholson opted for a belted long dress – it had pockets! – of a colour reminiscent of light wash jean fabric. As the emerging designer and celebrity posed together, the importance of the racing star’s actionshined. Usually designers and brands pay for the tables,which range from $200,000 to $300,000inviting celebrities as guests to feature their designs. This means young designers, who may not be as well-established, often miss out. In this case, Lewis Hamilton made sure a selected few had a seat at the table. 

This gesture once again speaks to his activism beyond his career as a racing driver, or in fact perhaps due to it. “As the first Black driver in Formula 1, Sir Lewis Hamilton was always aware of the lack of diversity across the motorsport industry,” reads The Hamilton Commission’s website. The report, published this summer, focused on how to improve representation of Black people in UK motorsport, both in the racing tracks and behind-the-scenes in the garages and factories.

His commitment to championing diversity is active, his actions speak louder than words. Propelling Black talent forwards, saving a seat for Black designers, celebrities and sport stars, he has used his platform to influence the fashion scene he loves. Each invited designer styled the celebrities on the table, with Nicholson tailoring an outfit for the host himself. 

Lewis Hamilton | A Superstar. This guy has it all. A pleasur… | Flickr
Hamilton, the British Formula 1 champion, is using his platform to propel young Black talent. Photograph: Flickr

Discussing the journey towards hosting a table at the Met, the docu-series ‘Our Table’ showed Hamilton and Nicholson exchanging thoughts on inspiration. The young designer speaks of a spiritual “divine flow” that he draws on when designing pieces, as to what Hamilton relates back to his experience racing. Mentioning a tattooed “divine love,” Nicholson’s interpretation of the Met’s theme sees the light. Centring it around American romanticism, a ‘romantic side of design’ for what he has been profiled for Vogue in the past, Nicholson seeks to balance the often-loose fittings from his collection with the traditional sharp sleekness of menswear.

Nicholson’s self-titled brand launched in 2016. It is devoted to “liberating the boundaries of men’s wear.” His avant-garde approach to men’s clothing has been acknowledged by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards, dubbed the “Oscars of fashion.” A 2020 nominee for ‘American Emerging Designer of the Year,’ Nicholson is one of the designers to watch.

Another Black designer recipient of the CFDA’s recognition is Edvin Thompson. One of this year’s ‘Fashion Fund’ finalists, he is the face behind contemporary brand Theophilio. Last month the Jamaican-American designer introduced his work on social media as a “wearable biography.” His designs reflect his exposure to fashion in Jamaica and New York City, fusing nostalgia with the city’s progressive culture. His upcoming Spring-Summer 2022 Collection ‘Air Jamaica’ represents that part of his heritage, often featuring the vibrant colours of the flag, in a similar fashion to his Met Gala fit. 

Thompson styled track athlete Sha’Carri Richardson. In an interview he explained the Phoenix inspiration behind the look, which consisted of a fiery red corset and split black fringe skirt. Featuring the design, she posted the look to her Instagram, captioning it with part of Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise,’ denoting the designer’s influence. 

Did you want to see me broken? // Bowed head and lowered eyes? // Shoulders falling down like teardrops, // Weakened by my soulful cries? // Yet Still I Rise.” 

Here the core identity of Theophilio shines. With cultural identity at the centre of his brand, at the root of its ideology there is the belief that “we all should look and feel good facing our adversities.”

As Black fashion designers, these adversities are faced disproportionately. Earlier this year the CFDA published its ‘State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion’ report. It found that Black employees in the US reported inaccessibility to the fashion industry three times more than their white counterparts. Particularly, Black students disproportionately struggle to afford the crucial but unpaid internships in fashion houses and magazines. For emerging independent indie artists, standing before the big brands they are drowned out, especially when it comes to large-scale events like the Met.

Speaking to Vogue, Hamilton drew parallels between the sports and fashion industry. “I realized it’s very similar […] A lot of brands and young designers don’t have the same opportunities.”  As part of the creative industry, success is tied to connections and – the dreaded word – networking.

Jason Rembert, also sitting in the F1 driver’s table, has spoken about the topic before. His work self-describesas a combination of a timeless classic style with “a fresh modern twist.” He has previously been part of the famous fashion event, granted behind the scenes, styling Zayn Malik for the 2016 Met Gala. In an interview with GQ about it, the American designer looked back at the early beginnings of his career. He recalled a failed internship application to the famous R&B and hip-hop magazine Vibe, in which his work has now, years later, been featured in. Given his vast portfolio with music clients, he styled American R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani, who was part of Hamilton’s party, as well as other attendees like Lil Baby and Mary J. Blige. Lewis Hamilton’s right-hand man and stylist, Law Roach, also sported a leather jacket and silk skirt from Rembert’s own brand, Aliétte.

Collaboration of this calibre is an artful and creative protest, in synch with the thematic ‘American Independence’ exploration, beyond the dress code.  “In this theme I wanted to create something meaningful […] spark a conversation,” said Hamilton. “When people see us all together, it will put these Black designers at the top of peoples’ minds.”