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From “midnight dinner parties” to today’s glamorous extravaganza, the event has come a long way. As the Met Gala turns 75, Ellie Violet Bramley looks back on some of her magical moments.
“The First Monday in May” is now known as the night the fashion industry really loosens up. There are stunts, trailer-sized dresses and selfies that are seen by millions of people all over the planet.
But it started more humbly. Eleanor Lambert, the publicist and “godmother of fashion”, started the Met Gala 75 years ago in 1948 as a fundraiser for the new Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, John Tiffany, her former mentee and biographer, told BBC Culture. More broadly, he adds, it was a way “to increase the visibility of American fashion.” The $50 tickets were sold to members of New York’s high society.
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Even then, however, it was a chance for fun. “During the war, New Yorkers had to close their windows and keep the lights off, so for the first Met Gala in 1948, Lambert created a ‘midnight dinner’ to let loose.”
It has had many twists and turns since then. “From 1948 to the 1970s, the goal was to look impeccable, embrace your own style while celebrating American fashion on the historic steps of the Met,” says Tiffany. It was under the tenure of American fashion editor Diana Vreeland in the 1970s that the event became more elaborate, with the introduction of themes spicing things up and the guest list extending to cultural types such as ‘Andy Warhol, as well as social figures like Jackie Kennedy. But it was in 1995 that the biggest change in its history came in the form of a bob: it was the year that Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour took over.
While a lot about the Met Gala today has been seriously upped, then like now, it’s all about fundraising. “The Met Gala will probably be Anna Wintour’s greatest professional achievement,” Amy Odell, fashion journalist and best-selling author of Anna: The Biography, told BBC Culture. “This has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the museum’s Costume Institute, as Anna has managed to increase the ticket price from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars since she started selling it. to plan.” Tickets this year would sell for $50,000.
The night is as much about what’s seen as what’s not, for while the front steps are home to a galaxy of flashing cameras, the festivities inside are shrouded in secrecy. “Part of the elitism of the event is its mystique,” says Odell. “What separates those who are invited from everyone else? What is really going on inside the party? These questions keep the public interested in the event, as well as any information that we get about it becomes news, fueling further intrigue.”
Wintour’s Met Gala is a flamboyant, all-couture sartorial spectacle. It’s a barometer of our times, albeit a richly gilded one, and a chance to see what a lot of money, creativity and trust can do. For some it will always be a shameless extravaganza, for others that is where its brilliance lies. Here we take a look at some of the most iconic Met Gala moments over the years:
Cher in Bob Mackie’s “naked dress”
1974: Romantic and glamorous Hollywood design
“Cher and Bob Mackie broke all the rules that night and showed how glamorous Hollywood was at that exact moment,” Tiffany said. “It might not have worked on someone else, but Cher had the confidence and Bob Mackie understood exactly how far he could go.” It may have been nearly 50 years ago, but the nude dress trend is then as it was then.
1981: The woman of the 18th century
Like a feather millefeuille, the outfit of the interpreter of the Supremes is one of the most discreet of the first years of the gala. “Diana Ross changed the conversation from 18th century woman to Miss Ross that night!” said Tiffany. She even wore the dress again several years later at the 2012 American Music Awards.
Rihanna’s Guo Pei “omelet dress”
2015: China: Through the Looking Glass
For Chinese seamstress Guo Pei, who had been creating couture for more than 30 years at the time Rihanna wore this egg-yolk dress, having her work dubbed the “omelet dress,” and heavily meme-heavy, was an unexpected way to gain fame. on the Internet around the globe. The cape had taken over 50,000 hours to hand embroider and weighed 25kg.
While it may have been a complicated moment for Guo, it was one that Wintour, according to Odell, really loved: “[she] really like the exaggerated looks”.
The theme was Catholicism, and producer, writer and actress Lena Waithe wore a cape showing the city of Philadelphia‘s revised pride flag, with black and brown stripes added to draw attention to concerns affecting LGBTQ+ people of color. “I represent my community, and I want everyone to know that you can be who you are, be completely proud and do it,” she told Vogue overnight.
Underneath, she wore a Carolina Herrera tuxedo. It was, Tiffany notes, “a sophisticated yet very chic look combined with its powerful message. It had a huge impact.”
Also of note from that night was Rihanna who actually dressed up as the Pope. While, according to Tiffany, “no one confused her with the Holy See”, she may have “inspired a few cardinals to submit her name to the next papal conclave wishing their first female pope”.
Billy Porter’s grand entrance
2019: Camp: Fashion Notes
“The theme was camp, Billy clearly got the mission,” Tiffany said of the Pose star’s red carpet arrival as the winged Egyptian pharaoh. Worn by bare-chested attendants and adorned with gold, it was only put down to grow golden wings. As Porter told Variety, “Camp means irreverence. Camp means hugely over the top and grandiose and what some may feel is ridiculous and silly, and embracing all of those creative impulses within us that very often get stifled.”
It was also the year Lady Gaga chewed up four Brandon Maxwell outfits on the red carpet, dragging Wintour from the entrance inside the museum, where she greets guests, to watch it – the first time, according to Odell, that she watched a red carpet entrance. It was also the year that Jared Leto wore a model of his own head to the gala, although there are no reports that Wintour made any for it.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Tax the Rich’ Dress
2021: In America: a fashion lexicon
Hypocrite or much-needed radicalism, when the New York congresswoman wore a white dress by black designer Aurora James emblazoned with the phrase “tax the rich” in red, it sure got people talking. As Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram at the time: “The media is the message…Now is the time for childcare, health care and climate action for all. Taxing the rich.”
But while the white wool slogan dress has become the most searched Met Gala look on Google, the dress worn by Kim Kardashian also deserves a special mention. A collaboration between Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia and Kardashian’s ex-husband Kanye West, it was a daring look that saw the woman with one of the world’s most recognized faces – and bodies – covered in head at the feet. As the design duo well knew, the Met is the perfect place to pull it all off.
Blake Lively’s transformed dress
2022: Golden Glamor
The theme asked attendees to look back to New York’s Golden Era, which spanned roughly from the 1870s to the dawn of the 20th century, and saw a wealth boom following industrialization. . Not one to ignore a brief, Gossip Girl actor Blake Lively wore a Versace gown that was an ode to New York at that time, changing color from turquoise to copper midway through the red carpet in a transformation that was intended to represent the oxidation of the Statue of Liberty. The dress was influenced more by architecture than fashion, with nods to other behemoths of the city’s skyline, such as the Empire State Building, as well as the star-studded ceiling of Grand Station. Central. It was a fitting look for New York’s most glamorous event.
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