“How do I feel in the dress? It’s definitely heavy, but I feel beautiful, strong, and empowered,” Simone Biles said yesterday at her final fitting for her Met Gala 2021 dress. Designed by Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk of Area, the three-in-one outfit consists of a hand-embellished skirt covered in Swarovski crystals and weighing 88 pounds; a mini dress underneath; and a glittering black catsuit decorated to look like a starry night’s sky (though each of the stars is really Athleta’s logo, the Chi).
It’s a striking debut for the superstar athlete, Area, and Athleta, all of whom are attending the event for the first time to celebrate the new exhibit “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Biles, a brand partner of Athleta, is attending as their guest. Working with stylist Leslie Fremar, Athleta came to the Area to create an ensemble for Biles, fresh off the Tokyo Olympics. “When we talked to them, even though they come from such a different place from us, we talked about the same things,” said Kyle Andrew, Chief Brand Officer at Athleta.
To link the three distinct, disparate parties—an activewear company, a luxury fashion label known for their penchant for crystals, and the greatest gymnast of all time—they all focused on the idea of performance, in all of its forms. “Okay, you have your active brand, you have an athlete, and you have a hyper glamorous brand from New York. Where do we all intersect? What’s the common ground? And one word was performance,” Panszczyk said. “It’s a word that has so many different connotations to people. People see it as entertainment, like workout clothes, as being an artist, as singing.”
The inspiration for the look ended up being showgirls, particularly Josephine Baker. The skirt and dress are covered with crystals arranged to look like ostrich plumes. But Baker was not just a renowned performer; she was also an activist and the first Black woman to star in a major film, 1927’s Siren of the Tropics. The way Baker used her power as a star to advocate for civil rights and the French resistance mirrors Biles’s own activism. It couldn’t be a more timely statement, as it’s only been a few months since Biles publicly withdrew from some Olympic events to protect her own well-being in a notoriously demanding sport. The catsuit is also a nice nod towards Biles’s accomplishments as a gymnast—the sparkle is not so different from a leotard.
Assembling the look was no easy feat. Over 100 people worked for 6,650 hours to embellish and craft the three garments, which were finished “around 4 a.m.” on Sunday, according to Panszczyk. The skirt, though it’s heavy, is actually padded, giving it a more similar feel to a weighted blanket than so much crystal-covered armor. Fogg and Panszczyk wanted Biles to be comfortable, so she can detach the skirt and remove the mini dress as the night goes on and she wants to be freer to dance and move around.
“I personally don’t think anybody’s dress is gonna be better than mine,” Biles said. “I’m sure everyone feels like that going in, but this is going to be a statement.” She also hopes that the dress will also be inspiring, in addition to being beautiful. “I want to say too little girls in general, you can be tough in any sport you want to be, and you can be strong. On the other end you can come out feeling empowered and beautiful and wear gowns like this and step out of your comfort zone,” she said. “You don’t have to be just an athlete; at the end of the day we’re people too.”Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in