Pamela Anderson on her Met Gala debut: 'I Am Playing Me'

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Pamela Anderson on her Met Gala debut: 'I Am Playing Me'
Pamela Anderson in Oscar de la Renta at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York, May 6, 2024. “I feel like everything has led me to this pinnacle moment where I get to be at the Met, being respected and accepted by Anna Wintour,” Anderson said before the gala. (Nina Westervelt/The New York Times)

by Vanessa Friedman

NEW YORK, NY.- Pamela Anderson never thought she would go to the Met Gala.

She was, in her most famous years, not a Met Gala kind of girl; her pictures in Playboy, not Vogue. But ahead of the first Monday in May there she was, finally, at age 56, getting ready to take her place on the red carpet at the museum.

“I feel like everything has led me to this pinnacle moment where I get to be at the Met, being respected and accepted by Anna Wintour,” Anderson said before the gala. She was in a hotel room at the Lowell, getting ready for a dress fitting. “I can imagine that in the past I was not someone she would ever take a second look at. I wasn’t in fashion, ever. I wasn’t cool. And I know those things may seem really superficial to some people, but it means a lot to me. I think I’m ready to meet her now.”

“I’m terrified,” she continued. “But that’s my happy place.”

This was the final step in a hero’s journey that wound through the gantlet of “Baywatch,” multiple marriages, a public shaming, a cultural reckoning and the redemption of a book, a documentary and a Broadway show.

It was one that took her from mostly taking off her clothes and being the face of Labatt’s beer to sitting in the front rows of Paris Fashion Week and being a face of Proenza Schouler. And one that has made her, over the last year, a fashion darling. The style set loves nothing so much as a makeover, especially of its own perceptions. The Met was simply the coronation.

“I’ve had this kind of rock ’n’ roll wild existence,” Anderson said. “But I always knew that this person was inside me. This lady. I’m like, ‘Oh, there you are.’”

Fernando Garcia, co-creative director of Oscar de la Renta, the fashion house that dressed Anderson for the gala, put it this way: “This is her coming into herself.”

So what does this new version of Pamela Anderson look like?

“She is a fairy in the forest,” Garcia said. Those are “the words we keep repeating to ourselves.” “We” being Anderson, Garcia and his co-creative director, Laura Kim; the forest being Anderson’s home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (where, she wrote in her memoir, her grandfather used to place little mirrors in the garden to get a glimpse of fairies) and the fashion world. Which is not a bad metaphor.

There was no stylist involved. Anderson does not have one. (Neither, she said, did she work with a ghost writer on her memoir, “Love, Pamela,” published in 2023.) “I’m still trying to do it my way,” she said. “Not being controlled, or managed. When I look back, I hate to say this, but when I worked with a stylist, those are my least favorite looks. Working with a designer directly, though — I love that.”

Anderson said she was happy to follow the lead of Garcia and Kim after they invited her to the gala, in part because they have developed something of a specialty in reinventing their celebrity guests for the event; seizing the moment of peak eyeball to make the watching world see famous figures they think they know in a new light.

It was Garcia and Kim who transformed Billie Eilish into a Marilyn Monroe va-va-voom figure in 2021; Garcia and Kim who made Kaia Gerber into a doppelgänger for Bianca Jagger crossed with Grace Kelly that same year, causing Vogue to praise her “pure elegance.” They have famously dressed Celine Dion (as an Erté-esque Ziegfeld girl) and Nicki Minaj (as a scarlet woman). They have been so effective at Met dressing that it has essentially replaced the regulation runway for them.

To create the ethereal look they had in mind for Anderson, Garcia and Kim designed a beige crinkled chiffon gown, micro-pleated at the waist with one strap just slipping off the shoulder and a 2-yard train that drifted out behind.

The idea, Garcia said, was to suggest that Anderson had wakened one morning, slipped on a nymphlike dress and gone on a romp through the woods. Along with the dress, they had a headpiece created by Noel Stewart to mimic pieces of grass that might have stuck in Anderson’s hair, and they draped about 227 carats of lab-grown Pandora diamonds (Anderson is a face of Pandora) across her collarbone to represent raindrops.

“You might have to sew them on to me,” Anderson said during the fitting, which was at the de la Renta offices on 42nd Street. “It’s OK. I’ve been through worse.”

Oh, and she was wearing (light) makeup again, thanks to Pat McGrath, and Orlando Pita did her hair. “My mother will be so happy,” Anderson said.

“I really do feel like a princess,” she continued. “Or like a tree spirit. I don’t know, maybe a gnome? It’s just so elegant. So sophisticated. All those things that we aspire to be and fall short of. I feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, if this is the last picture ever taken in my life, I’m happy.’”

In a way, she has been preparing for it since she decided to wipe her face clean of makeup, bare her soul to the world in her documentary and memoir, and take control of her own story. Thinking, she said, “if I’m good enough for my dogs and my garden, good enough for the grocery store, then I’m good enough to go walk on a red carpet without a stitch of makeup on. It was very freeing.”

Women, she said, have come up to her on the street to thank her. “I thought, ‘I’m just waiting for my next incarnation,’” she said. “I don’t mind being the experiment.”

In the past, she said, she had “tried to dress like a grown-up when I wasn’t there yet. I just didn’t know how to put it all together.” She has some old Yves Saint Laurent and Alaïa, along with a bunch of “rubber dresses,” in storage bins back on Vancouver Island, where she lives with her two Labradors, one golden retriever, and a 5,000-square-foot vegetable and rose garden. Her parents live in another cabin on the property. At her Met fitting she joked that she had gone “from pickles to pearls.” (She does a lot of pickling.) “That’s your next book,” said Brandon Thomas Lee, the older of her two sons, who was with her in New York.

Anderson, who was going straight from the Met to Atlanta, where she is about to start filming a remake of “The Naked Gun” with Liam Neeson, and who still writes a weekly newsletter called “The Open Journal,” giggled.

“I’ve had another kind of image for so long, but that was almost a caricature,” she said. “People wear Halloween costumes of some of the looks I’ve created. So I think that’s a compliment, kind of. Jeff Koons used to tell me, ‘You walk out the door, it’s performance art.’ I’ve been playing characters my whole life. Now I am playing me.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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