Forty-six years after the The Battle of Versailles fashion show, an entirely different but no less historic battle took place just north of the Metropolitan Museum's steps on Tuesday night at The Met's first-ever "Battle of the Legends" Ball. There, ballroom legends including José Gutierrez-Xtravaganzaza (father of the House of Xtravaganza) and Twiggy Pucci Garçon (executive producer of the documentary "Kiki"), Our Lady J (writer/producer on "Pose"), (Sinia Alaia (overall mother of House of Alaïa), Lola Mizrahi (member of House of Mizrahi) and Broadway producer Jordan Roth judged six voguers as they stepped on stage to perform before a crowd of hundreds.
Oh, and Anna Wintour! Indeed, the very game editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast, smiling bigger than when HBO execs found out Meryl Streep was in for "Big Little Lies" season two, was on hand to help judge. A tough judge she was not — she gave no one less than a 10 — but she was a gracious ambassador in bringing ballroom culture to an audience it might not otherwise reach. I cannot accurately convey in words what it was like to watch the competitors beam with pride at the chance to shake hands with Ms. Wintour.
The line-up of competitors at "Battle of the Legends" was made up of Bootz Prodigy, Omari Mizrahi, Ty Ebony Malik Miyake-Mugler (replacing the originally announced Dashaun Lanvin), Asia Balenciaga and Tamiyah Miyake-Mugler. "This is the Jerusalem of ballroom," Jack Mizrahi, the night's lead commentator, told Fashionista.
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(Quick note for ball newbies: Welcome! The houses mentioned above are fundamental component of the house-ballroom community, a thriving group whose roots date back to the 1920s/1930s in and around NYC. A member serves as a representative of that house and competes in what are known as battles to win trophies, as was the case on Tuesday. If ballroom culture is something you want to learn more about, follow Out editor — and Fashionista contributor! — Mikelle Street on Twitter; he regularly posts video and critical context to iconic past and present ball history. We also highly recommend streaming the 1990 ball documentary "Paris Is Burning" on Netflix.)
And so they battled: Bootz battled Omari. Ty battled Malik. Asia battled Tamiyah. Omari, Malik and Asia advanced. "I need to get this clear, hold on," international MC and house/ballroom historian Jack Mizrahi told the crowd mid-way through the show as the plaza got quiet. "Pride month is an opportunity for us in the community — cause you know we're prideful all year round, 360/24/7 and then some — Pride month is for us to open the eyes of other people to be proud of who we are what we've done. We celebrate all year round. So everyone who wants to be a part of this community, see us throughout the year and not just in June."
Then Omari battled Malik. Asia battled Malik. The grand prize trophy and check (presented by Ms. Wintour) went to Malik, winning also the title of Legend Slayer. Malik, who performed inside at last month's camp-themed Met Gala, wore a silver sleeveless shantung blazer with silver and glass beaded embellishments on his accompanying turtleneck. "This look was actually inspired by my title King of the East," he tells Fashionista after his win. "We all love diamonds and things that sparkle, so as the King of the East, I wanted to bring my sparkle to the Met stage."
The fashions were on high display, from Jack Mizrahi's head-to-toe Dapper Dan to Twiggy in full Gucci — plus Ms. Wintour in Vogue-print Versace. But not all the opulence was courtesy of designer names: "A lot of these outfits were made by [the competitors]. This culture was created as an underground movement for those less privileged, so to see them create and make something so beautiful out of nothing is amazing," Xtravaganza told Fashionista.
"Fashion is very important in Ball culture," Mizrahi added, saying it plays a dual role. "When we see something that we cannot afford and we want, it drives you to do two things: go get it or create it. What we do is we give fashion its edge. Being in Dapper Dan today, I could have paired this with all Gucci or I could have turned around and dressed it down in or put it with something else. It's about the attitude, the audacity that we have to want to be in high fashion labels even though we don't have the means to get them."
The seemingly atypical venue was actually quite appropriate given the current Camp exhibit on display inside. "For example, camp," Precious Ebony, who helped MC the event told Fashionista, with their giant red heart wings still fluttering behind them. "Why am I wearing what I'm wearing today? Because we have so many murders within the trans community I wanted to bring something in that brought attention to that. I could have just put a little heart on and said 'spread the love' or something, but I wanted to be the person that I embody which is a full-figured heart, a heart in living form. I wanted to make sure that people knew that as long as I'm here, the message of love is going to be spread."
As for the way it binds with fashion? "It's like the creativity of ballroom categories like Bizarre and Fashion Icon Magazines. We see the cover of Vogue and we try to emulate it and make it our own and we take pieces and make them overly extravagant."
Extravagant. Audacious. Inspiring. One for the history books, thanks to the unexpected yet somehow inevitable collision of two worlds. In a month that's become largely corporatized and been accused by many within the community of failing to uplift some of the most marginalized and vulnerable within the community writ large, the "Battle of the Legends" set a new rainbow standard.