After a year off, fashion’s biggest red carpet event returns next week with a patriotic theme and focus on youth. Ahead of the Met Gala 2021, here’s everything you don't really need to know, but we’re telling you anyway...
I’ve been living under a blissfully unaware, social media free rock. What’s the Met Gala?
The Met Gala - or ball as it’s also sometimes known, and the Costume Institute Benefit as it is officially called - is a glamorous annual event held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, acting as both a fundraiser for the museum’s Costume Institute and the official opening of its fashion exhibition.
The first gala was held in 1948 and typically hosted wealthy New York society. In 1973, legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland took over at the Costume Institute and revamped the gala to invite celebrities and introduce yearly themes. Since 1995 Vogue editor Anna Wintour has been chairwoman of the event, with huge power over its invite list and themes.
It is a huge event, with the red carpet covered globally - but it is also a massive fundraiser for the museum and the primary source of funding for the fashion department. People, or companies, are able to buy tables (reported to be US$200,000 to $300,000; though it is invite-only), while high-profile brands vie to be the sponsor for the event (recent sponsors have included Instagram, Gucci, Apple, Versace, Louis Vuitton and H&M). In 2019, it raised more than $13 million.
Largely considered to be one of the biggest fashion red carpet and social events, it has been described as the fashion industry’s version of the Oscars. The red carpet is typically more exciting and creative than other red carpets with various instantly iconic moments as celebrities have stepped onto the red carpet: Rihanna in 2015 in a yellow gown by Guo Pei with its 16 foot train, and Lady Gaga’s fashion as performance art arrival in 2019 where she unveiled four outfits as she entered.
When is it?
This year’s gala will be held on Monday September 13 - that’ll be around late Tuesday morning in New Zealand.
Why then - why not the first Monday in May?
A little thing called Covid, you may have heard of it? The 2020 event was cancelled (the first time in its 25-year history) because of the impact of the pandemic, with this year’s postponed until health and safety concerns could be met.
The gala night has traditionally been held on the first Monday in May; famously documented in the 2016 documentary of the same name.
What’s this year’s theme?
America! The Met Gala officially opens the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibition, with the red carpet dress code typically reflecting a similar theme. This year’s exhibition will explore American fashion and identity, with two-parts - In America: A Lexicon of Fashion and In America: An Anthology of Fashion - with the latter to open on May 5 2022.
“Over the past year, largely because of the pandemic, the connections to what we wear have become more emotional,” explains curator Andrew Bolton. “This has meant an increased emphasis on sentiment over practicality and a heightened appreciation of the values rather than the vagaries of fashion.
“Responding to these shifts, Part One of the exhibition will establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on the expressive qualities of clothing as well as its deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Part Two will further investigate the evolving language of American fashion through a series of collaborations with American film directors who will visualise the unfinished stories inherent in The Met’s period rooms.”
The official dress code for next week’s gala is, fittingly, American Independence - expect lots of red, white and blue, stars, stripes and, hopefully, a showcase of the new wave of exciting US designers like Christoper John Rogers, Bode and Pyer Moss.
Given the political climate in the US right now, we hope to see some real red carpet political statements too.
The invite list is tightly guarded, and tightly vetted by Anna Wintour. So who knows! In the past, guests have included everyone from the A-list (Beyoncé, Gaga, Rihanna) to fashion friendly (Blake Lively, the Hadids, Gisele, etc.). Typically the hot young things of the moment make an appearance; with the Met Gala red carpet a highly visible way to cement your fashion credentials (expect to see Olivia Rodrigo).
This year’s gala co-chairs reflect that, with a seemingly deliberate focus on youth: Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka will serve alongside designer Tom Ford, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, and Anna Wintour.
The invite list, according to reports, is much smaller than previous years; reduced from around 600 to 450. That makes sense, with Covid restrictions and all.
I read something about controversy?
...not really, it’s more about shifting priorities for the fashion industry as a whole.
In August a fake seating plan was shared widely on Instagram, with TikTok and YouTube stars like Addison Rae and Emma Chamberlain next to the likes of Beyoncé. Scandal!
In 2019 some rolled their eyes at disgraced YouTuber James Charles attending as a guest (actually the eye rolls likely came after his Instagram post where he wrote that being invited as “a step forward in the right direction for influencer representation in the media”.)
Page Six - not exactly the purveyor of truth and trust - also recently published a deliciously gossipy piece that claimed some felt that the Met Gala had lost prestige.
“I’ve been told that a lot of influencers are on the guest list,” one celebrity agent, whose clients have been regulars at the affair in the past, told The Post. “I’ve heard that Facebook and Instagram have taken so many tables, and that’s put a lot of people off going, alongside the mask mandate.”
A publicist with A-list clients added: “Personally, I don’t think the Met is cool anymore … It’s gone from super prestigious to [being] full of influencers.”
What that all really represents is fashion’s ongoing obsession with youth, and power - which has shifted away from traditional platforms and celebrity to digital and social.
Should I care?
Look, it’s up to you! With so much darkness in the news recently - and the fact that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic - it would be easy to dismiss the event as frivolous, overly extravagant, unnecessary. But the same could be said for any high profile red carpet event, whether it be a fundraising gala for a highly regarded museum or the recent Cannes or Venice film festivals. We'll take some levity where we can get it, so enjoying it for what it is - escapism, creativity, joy - is important too.