Hello! I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend. Back in your inboxes with the second of my two newsletters ahead of tomorrow’s Met Gala.
ICYMI, here is my interview with Amy Odell, author of the buzzed-about new biography of Anna Wintour, the mastermind of the Met Gala. Below you will find a bit of backstory on the event billed as “the fashion world equivalent of the Oscars.” The significance of the Met Gala has grown markedly in the last decade, beyond the closed world of high fashion to an evening anticipated—and appreciated—by a much broader audience.
Do you have thoughts on the Met Gala? Please bring them to Instagram tomorrow! I’ll be going live with Amy on Monday, May 2, at 12pm PT / 3pm ET, to talk about her new book, ANNA, and the Met Gala. I hope you’ll join us.
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The annual star-studded event, which takes place on the first Monday in May, is a fundraiser for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, chief content officer of its parent company Conde Nast, and trustee of the Met Gala, runs the show. Tickets, which cost roughly $35,000 each, with tables ranging from $200,000 to $300,000, are given at her discretion. Celebrities typically attend with the designers or brands who have dressed them.
The Met Gala also marks the opening of the year’s Costume Institute exhibition, carefully curated around a theme. That theme is then spun into a dress code for the evening’s A-list attendees. Past themes have included “China: Through the Looking Glass” (2015), “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” (2018), and “Camp: Notes on Fashion” (2019).
Vogue describes the night as “a grand display of art as fashion and fashion as art, showing how both forms comprise and define our cultural fabric. Each theme is chosen with the utmost consideration—what story does this tell? What history does it teach?”
Yes, sort of—thanks to COVID.
The Met Gala was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and postponed in 2021, moved from May to September. The exhibition that opened last fall, called “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” was the first of a two-part series celebrating American fashion. The red carpet dress code was “American Independence,” with everything from patriotic colors to horse heads. (You can read my newsletter recapping the all-over-the-place fashion here.)
This year’s exhibition, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” continues the theme. “This second installation by Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, centers on the tenets of American style and prizes the anonymous and unsung heroes of US design,” explains Vogue. “Whereas ‘Lexicon’ offers an expansive look, ‘Anthology’ gets specific, delving into the usually overlooked backbone of American style.”
Perhaps to make sure the carpet is sufficiently differentiated from last fall, this year’s Met Gala has a more specific dress code: Gilded Glamour.
Vogue reports attendees have been asked “to embody the grandeur—and perhaps the dichotomy—of Gilded Age New York.”
The phrase “conspicuous consumption” was popularized at this time, according to a piece by historian Kimberly Hamlin in Smithsonian Magazine. She also notes that “as economic lines blurred, racial lines hardened. The Gilded Age witnessed the collapse of Reconstruction, the hardening of legal segregation and the rapid growth of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Lesser known are the stories of the rise of the Black elite class at this time, according to Erica Armstrong Dunbar, an author and history professor at Rutgers University who served as a historical consultant for the HBO show of the same name. “What does the average person know about the Black elite in New York in the 1880s? The answer is very little if anything,” she told the New York Times. “There’s this huge gap between the Civil War and slavery and then, maybe, the Harlem Renaissance — as if nothing happened in between.”
Doesn’t this feel like rich (excuse the pun) fodder for red carpet dressing? My sincere hope is that the celebrities dig beyond the fancy face value of the theme and embrace the more complicated aspects of the Gilded Age.
As for the literal interpretation, CNN Style has this summary of the trends at the time (Hint: We may see bird hats?):
And Anna, of course.
In 1948, influential fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert started what was called the Costume Institute Benefit, which Vogue describes as “a midnight supper”—how chic does that sound?— “that swiftly became the party of the year.” Several decades later, then-Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland joined the Costume Institute and began shaping the event into what it is today.
In 1995, several years into her tenure at Vogue, Anna became the co-chair of the event. She returned in 1997, and again in 1999, and has been at the helm since. (She was not in charge the year Diana attended, more on that below.)
The event has grown significantly in the last decade; what was once an insidery evening has become much known outside closed fashion circles. I attribute this to the red carpet and the ways in which the famous faces have embraced over-the-top interpretations of the theme. Social media loves nothing more than a fantastical, or even absurd, fashion moment. This slideshow from Vogue proves my point. Tracing the best dressed for the last three decades, the fashion goes from very pretty (but mostly unremarkable) dresses in the 1990s to the wild and wonderful looks we see now.
Yes, two! In 2018, Princess Beatrice walked the red carpet for the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition, wearing a purple Alberta Ferretti gown.
But the most famous royal attendee is Diana, who walked the red carpet in 1996 just months after her divorce from Charles was finalized. This was before Anna had made the event into what it is today; you can see from the footage here it was a (comparatively) lower-key affair.
The Princess of Wales attended with her good friend, former Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis. The theme that year was Christian Dior, and the 35-year-old Di wore a dress from his first couture collection for the brand. Made of midnight blue satin and lace, the slip dress gave off a serious lingerie vibe. She also carried her favorite style of Dior handbag (this bag was so synonymous with Di that it was renamed the “Lady Dior” after her death the following year).
And a moment for her jewelry! The princess wore her signature sapphire, diamond and pearl statement choker, made from a brooch belonging to the Queen Mother. She also chose her diamond and sapphire drop earrings (William has since passed these on to Kate). Both coordinated with her engagement ring—sending a very different message after her divorce.
A girl* can dream! (*me, I’m that girl, LOL). Now that the Duchess of Sussex is back in California, my guess is she is the more likely of the pair to pop up on the red carpet. But you never know! That’s the beauty of the Met Gala red carpet, it’s full of surprises.
The guest list is a closely guarded secret, so it’s anyone’s guess as to who we will see Monday night. But it’s safe to say a Kardashian, or several, will be there.
Vanessa Hudgens and La La Anthony will join Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles for the the red carpet livestream on Vogue.com and all of its social media platforms. It kicks off on Monday at 3pm PT / 6pm ET.
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Have thoughts on the Met Gala or Anna Wintour? Please bring them to our Instagram Live Monday, May 2 at 12pm PT / 3pm ET. I’ll see you there!
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