You might know Mackenzie Davis from the AMC series "Halt and Catch Fire," or her jealousy-inducing role opposite Miles Teller in "That Awkward Moment," or as eyeliner-loving NASA engineer Mindy Park in "The Martian." Or, now, you may know her as the low-key breakout star of Monday night's "Manus x Machina"-themed Met Gala, which the 29-year-old Canadian actress attended with Joseph Altuzarra in a custom, hand-beaded, sequin-covered gown and cape by the designer. The first-timer was hands down one of the best-dressed attendees— something we predicted on Saturday when we saw her and the sparkling show-stopping dress in person at Altuzarra's studio in lower Soho.
It was the final fitting before "fashion prom" and the vibe was pretty relaxed. An hour or so was spent deciding things like which Van Cleef & Arpels jewels to pair with the gown (as a security guard looked on), whether or not to use the cape's armholes as well as the hair and makeup look. Davis had saved a photo of Natalia Vodianova for reference: she wanted a cat-eye, but Altuzarra wanted to make sure it didn't look too '60s. She then practiced posing, even attempting Beyoncé's memorable 2015 stance. "I'm just giving you guys a preview," she quipped.
Davis and Altuzarra had a funny, natural rapport, and according to the designer, that's half the battle when it comes to Met Gala prep. "The one thing that's always hard to gauge is how well your personalities are going to mesh, because you are spending like six hours together and when it’s awkward, it can be a little painful," he explained. "I think when we met, it was so fun. We got along really well immediately and she's so nice."
Davis is, indeed, really nice and normal. And her initial feelings about attending the Met Gala for the first time sound exactly like what mine would be. She explained:
"Once I heard I got to go with Joseph and that I was being invited by him, I was excited and came and met him, but the excitement was also followed by a real social anxiety of [thinking], 'uhh, I don’t know any famous people, I won't have anyone to talk to, maybe he will be friends with everybody and he won't want to talk to me at dinner.' Just because that's the cycle of thought that I go through when any good thing happens to me. But then we met... it was so easy and lovely. I feel like when that happens, it's a good omen. When there aren’t a lot of weird struggles to put clothes on a body. Putting on the dress today was just like stepping into a waterfall."
Davis had some input in terms of the silhouettes she preferred and the overall look. "I think you sort of had a semi-idea that you wanted to go with something with a little more drama," said Altuzarra, who took that and started thinking about how he would interpret the theme. Inspired by Fritz Lang's 1972 sci-fi film "Metropolis," he said he aimed to "replicate the machine-like with circuitry and Tron-like landscapes, but in incredibly intricate hand-embroidery for a nice tension."
The very first fitting also involved an appropriate melding of fashion and technology. Since Davis was in Atlanta filming, it had to take place over Skype. "It's sometimes hard when you're working remotely and also with people who aren't necessarily familiar with the fashion process of making clothes... it seems like you were so trusting," said Altuzarra to Davis. But why wouldn't she be? "Yeah, you guys sent those [sketches] to me and then I [thought], 'Oh, ok that's done.'" Indeed, the sketch below would probably put anyone's fears to rest. Plus, Davis was already a fan of the designer. "I started working with [stylist] Petra Flannery earlier this year when we did "The Martian" premiere. And I did a long fitting with her for all the stuff I was going to wear for the press tour and every piece of yours I tried on I kept [saying], 'Who's this?!' And it kept being Joseph Altuzarra."
Even though Altuzarra managed to avoid the trouble of a high-maintenance date, a lot of time and effort went into the creation of this custom gown; he also dressed Huma Abedin in a look from his fall 2016 runway collection. When asked why it's worth participating in the Met Gala every year, he explained, "It's obviously such an honor to go and it's the best of the best in each industry. It's a strange thing to say, but being part of that group, I think, is a great branding opportunity." He also likes the challenge. "As a designer, part of what you end up having to think a lot about when you're growing a brand is how focused your voice can be, and how each single thing that you do has to fit within a universe," he said. "I think the Met Gala is a really great platform for a lot of designers to work within a theme and show what they can do with a certain idea but within their universe... I think people glean a lot from seeing what you do."
Davis aptly summed it up: "It’s also like a very high-end, real world "Project Runway" challenge. But, that actually matters."
"Totally," agreed Altuzarra, before assuring me that the event is also "really fun" — at least after the "nerve-wracking" red carpet. So what will the pair be thinking about while walking up the Met's steps? "What do you do with your hands?!" replied Davis, without missing a beat. "I'm probably thinking different things than what Mackenzie's thinking about," said Altuzarra, "like, I need to get out of the way as quickly as possible. Every red carpet that I've done there has been really different. When you're smushed in between Beyoncé and J.Lo, it's always a stressful red carpet."
Whatever jitters they may have had on Monday while eating french fries and getting ready at the Mandarin Oriental, however, were imperceptible by the time Davis and Altuzarra made their glittery arrival at the Met Gala. For more behind-the-scenes images of the fitting and Monday's prep, browse the gallery below.