Beyond the couture and costumes, what exactly is the Met Gala? Why do the rich and famous dress up for a theme party, and what do they do at the party? Who funds the extravaganza, and where does the money it raise go?
The annual Met Gala is back. “Fashion’s biggest night” this year kicks off on May 1, 6:30 pm Eastern Time (around 4 am on Tuesday in India), which means that soon enough, our social media feeds will be full of celebrities in outfits spanning the range from beautiful to bizarre, inspired to inexplicable.
Beyond the couture and costumes, what exactly is the Met Gala? Why do the rich and famous don clothes around a pre-decided theme for a party, and what do they do at the party? Who funds the extravaganza, and where does the money it raise go?
What is the Met Gala?
Officially the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, the Met Gala is an annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City, and is generally held on the first Monday in May.
Essentially, the Costume Institute is the only wing of the Met museum that needs to fund itself, and it does so spectacularly through the one party it throws in the year.
The party is strictly invitation-only, with a select group of celebrities from across fields making the cut each year. The guests are encouraged to dress up according to the theme decided for the year, which is also the theme for that year’s Costume Institute exhibition.
This time, around 400 people are likely to be invited, while the theme is ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’, a tribute to the iconic fashion designer Lagerfeld, who, apart from his own line, worked for the likes of Chanel and Fendi.
Since the Met Gala is raising money for a costume institute, the outfits push the limits of fashion and creativity — blessing the internet with material to admire and meme around.
And what is the Costume Institute?
According to the museum’s website, “The Costume Institute’s collection of more than thirty-three thousand objects represents seven centuries of fashionable dress and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.”
t began as the Museum of Costume Art, an entity independent from the museum, in 1937. In 1946, “with the financial support of the fashion industry, the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a curatorial department,” the website adds.
How does the Met Gala raise money?
The Gala is funded by various sponsors each year. This time, the chief sponsor is Chanel, supported by Fendi, Condé Nast, and Lagerfeld’s own line, according to the Met.
The money it raises is through the sale of tickets and tables, priced astronomically. According to The NYT, the price of one ticket this year is $50,000, with tables beginning at $300,000. The tables are generally bought by big brands and fashion houses. Last year’s event raised $17.4 million, as per NYT.
Okay, but why is the Met Gala such a big deal?
The Met Gala wasn’t always the high-profile event with global visibility it is today. It began in 1948, when fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert decided to invite New York’s high society for a fundraising dinner, with tickets priced at $50 each. In 1972, fashion columnist Diana Vreeland became consultant to the Costume Institute, and raised the Gala’s profile beyond just a New York city event by inviting famous and glamorous guests, and also introducing the practice of annual themes.
Many believe the Gala has attained its current status thanks to the magic dust sprinkled by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-Chief of fashion magazine Vogue and Global Chief Content Officer for Condé Nast. Wintour has been the chief organiser of the event since 1999 and personally curates the guest list, making an invitation to the Met Gala a highly sought-after status symbol, a mix of the cream from the worlds of fashion, politics, sports, tech, etc. For example, designers that buy a table invite their own guests, but even that list has to be apporved by Wintour and Vogue. Famously, Wintour had in 2017 said she would never invite Donald Trump (who had attended before becoming President) to the Met Gala again.
The show also has officially designated hosts for each year, and this year’s include, apart from Wintour, actor Penélope Cruz, screenwriter Michaela Coel, singer Dua Lipa, and tennis player Roger Federer.
What the guests do after getting photographed at the red carpet and welcomed by the hosts is a mystery. No one knows for sure, and guests are not allowed to carry phones, adding to the event’s mystique. But broadly, it is understood that they are treated to the Costume Institute’s exhibits before dinner. The event also has high-profile performers to entertain the guests.
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