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What’s so mega about the Met Ball?
It’s the fashion event that makes global headlines, and this year’s theme – Catholicism – is set to stir up more controversy than ever. Victoria Moss takes a look at how the gala has gone from haute couture to political hot potato
A single ticket costs around ,000 (about £21,615). A table at the dinner, in excess of 5,000 (about £198,138). Even so, there’s a waiting list to get in, and all attendees must be approved by Anna Wintour. Immortalised in Andrew Rossi’s 2019 documentary,The First Monday In May, New York’s Met Ball (or Met Gala, as it’s officially called) is fashion’s biggest, starriest night out. The theme of this year’s event, co-hosted by Donatella Versace, Amal Clooney and Rihanna, is ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’. It is potentially set to be one of the most debate-provoking yet.
Ostensibly, the ball serves as the opening of the summer exhibition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Working behind the scenes to bring these exhibitions to fruition have been two key figures: Harold Koda (who started out assisting the legendary editor Diana Vreeland when she was a special consultant to the Institute) and Andrew Bolton, who took over as curator-in-charge when Koda stepped down in 2019. The Met Gala theme is always a hot topic; previous themes have included ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’, and ‘AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion’. The ball is a crucial fundraising arm, having raised over .5million (about £9.7 million) in 2019 for the gallery, enabling these exhibitions to exist. The involvement of Wintour, who has been chairwoman for 23 years, has seen the ball evolve from a high-society do into the world’s biggest red-carpet extravaganza. For attendees, this isn’t about showing off serious actor/artiste/ musician credentials; it’s about achieving maximum column inches/Instagram likes/Facebook shares and getting on to the best-dressed lists. It’s about snaring cosmetic and fashion-house campaigns. It’s about being seen as part of the creative elite. It’s about status and power.
Wintour has shrewdly maximised the marketing tool of the red carpet to make this one of the world’s most-watched events. After all, it was at a Met Ball that Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik made their first red-carpet appearance together in co-ordinating looks (very Beckhams circa 2000), Solange Knowles took on Jay Z in a lift, and Serena Williams debuted her baby bump. Not to mention, Rihanna’s yellow gown with 16ft train by Guo Pei, which made meme history as the giant omelette.
Guests are given staggered arrival times, so that the intensity can be managed (and everyone gets their shot). Dame Wintour traditionally goes first, while Beyoncé has often been a closing act. The Met Museum’s grand staircase, swathed in its red carpet, is the ultimate backdrop, and the level of detail that goes into the planning is legendary. There are even canapé diktats: no parsley, as it sticks in teeth; no bruschetta, as it’ll make a mess of your dress.
Wintour and her team oversee designer and celebrity pairings, approving what they’ll wear. InThe First Monday In May, Wintour is seen literally moving tables around and scrutinising the seating plan, barking at one point, ‘Harvey [Weinstein] won’t like that.’ (Shame that even Wintour doesn’t have the power to turn back time.)
This year’s show – which will be the biggest the Met has ever constructed – is gearing up to be the most eyebrow-raising yet. Bolton had long considered looking at religion in fashion, and originally sought to cover Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Aside from the vastness of this subject matter, stoking up religious sensitivities in an age of extremism was perhaps wisely avoided. If you thought the secondSex And The Citymovie was crass for its patronising portrayal of Muslim women and their burqas, can you imagine the furore caused by an examination of the dress of followers of Islam? Niqab v nun’s habit? Definitely best avoided.
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