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Gala Girl

Aria Olson, ’20, is the new Anna Wintour of virtual fashion, having created the first digital Met Gala.
By Jennifer Conlin, ’83


Read time: 4 minutes

It was less than 48 hours before the start of the High Fashion Twitter Met Gala, a 24-hour digital event Aria Olson, ’20, created to help celebrate the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fundraiser for its Costume Institute. Since March 17, Olson had been working 14-hour days, punctuated by online classes and six-hour Zoom calls, as she organized the May 4 event. It would end up attracting more than 11,000 followers and raising $2,200 as of late May for front-line workers.

“I was exhausted. But it never felt like work because I loved doing it,” she said of her role as lead coordinator of the #HFMetGala, a project she dreamed up in November 2019.

Temporal ConflationHigh Fashion Twitter (known as hf twt) is a community that discusses design, fashion, and industry ethics. Olson, who graduated from U-M’s aerospace engineering program at age 19 (she was a freshman at 16), joined hf twt in 2018. “I had always liked fashion. I see it as a mixture of storytelling and performance art and wanted to learn more about it from my peers,” she said from her parents’ home in Kansas City, Missouri, where she has been sheltering since mid-March.

For the hf twt community, few fashion events rival the annual red carpet Met gala that opens the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition each year. The event always pairs models, musicians, actors, and authors with top designers who dress them. “It’s a huge spectacle for the hf twt community,” said Olson, adding that this year was going to be particularly special as it was also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the museum. “I wanted to take that community response and create the HFMetGala.”

Originally, she envisioned people sharing mood boards and photos of celebrity looks to spark discussion threads. Then, on March 17, Anna Wintour, the host of the Met Gala and Vogue’s editor-in-chief, postponed the event until October due to the pandemic. (It has since been canceled.) Olson had already assembled an international team of 11 women from hf twt, who ranged in age from a 15-year-old in Serbia to a 22-year-old in Argentina.

MetGala E Book Spread
Excerpt from About Time: Fashion and Duration

Given that the event was virtual anyway, the group decided to press ahead and create an e-book around the theme of the Met’s spring exhibit, “About Time: Fashion and Duration.” Using a Google spreadsheet, the organizers asked Twitter users to submit a fashion “look,” via a collage of photos, sketches, mood boards, or selfies. (Everyone was told to use their own clothing, as they did not want anyone shopping during the pandemic.) They also decided to turn it into a fundraiser to honor the ethos of the Met Gala and asked that donations be given to the International Medical Corps in return for a copy of the 175-page digital publication titled “Temporal Conflation: Fashion and Duration.”

MetGala E Book Spread 2
Excerpt from About Time: Fashion and Duration

Nylon, Fashionista, New York magazine, and then The New York Times all wrote about the virtual gala. The media attention has thrown Olson — who is still planning to attend California Polytechnic State University in the fall to earn a master’s degree in industrial engineering — a bit of a curveball. A film company is currently talking to her team about a possible documentary on the project, making her wonder what a future in fashion might hold for her. “I just want to see what happens with all of this,” said Olson.

“What Aria and her crew achieved was way beyond what I had ever imagined,” said The New York Times fashion editor, Vanessa Friedman. “We talk a lot about the ‘democratization of fashion’ and how the internet has allowed access to otherwise cordoned-off areas of culture. But Aria gave all of that meaning, breaching the velvet ropes of this event with grace, intelligence, and totally infectious enthusiasm. She is as organized as Anna Wintour, but her inclusive vision puts the Met — and fashion — fully in the middle of today’s conversation. I think she’s engineering the future.”

To access the official #HFMetGala2020 e-book, donate at least $5 to the International Medical Corps and then email a screenshot of the receipt to [email protected].

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