In the last few years, it’s become considerably chicer – and a helluva lot more fun – to trash/disdain the Met Ball than embrace it. That’s certainly true for us fashion insiders who’ve always felt it was our own private prom – which got hijacked at least a decade and a half ago by press-seeking celebs, half-naked pop stars, tech magnates, corporate raiders and self-congratulatory press whores. Even designers seem to have gotten treated like third class citizens since, several rungs below pop royalty, Hollywood royalty, supermodel royalty – and plain old money royalty. And of course, fake-reality tv royalty. This year, that other iconic DV – Donatella Versace – is a co-chair of the Met Costume Institute Ball opening the “Heavenly Bodies: fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibit this year (along with Amal Clooney and Met Ball marathoner Rihanna), and designer stalwarts Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen always shake a tail feather or two – but will the religious right call this years’ looks “blasphemy!” or the now-preferred “BS”- ??? If a man shows up in a dress or JLo or KKWe wear gowns with their considerable butt exposed – under the theme of “Catholicism” – the less blue part of our much-divided country could be seeing red.
Which – when you think about it – could give The Met Ball the disruption/shake-up it needs. We need some outre’, people!
Not only has the contemporary Met Ball become the terrain of the most inflated spenders and outsized stars in undersized outfits – it’s also now the more or less public domain of Johnny and Jackie Q. Public, who pour over Instagram pics of The Met Ball like it’s a polygamist royal wedding on steroids – even fashionistas like Meghan and Catherine are lower key and more modest compared to this costume-caffeinated crowd. Funny when you think that The Met Ball was conceived in 1946 as an interface between a trio of the very highbrow worlds of society, culture, and fashion (the first event honored Norman Norell, for $50 a ticket); then got taken over by newly fired editor of Vogue Diana Vreeland in 1972 – before that year, manufacturers would sit around tickling the ivories piano with designers – but in her day, the divine DV added international socials like Marella Agnelli, Jacqueline de Ribes, Marisa Berenson. Once Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Cher (in a sheer Bob Mackie) started showing up, The Ball went to a whole other level – as in 1974, for the “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design Show.” Cher returned in 1983 with date David Geffen for “Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design” – and then to date Marc Jacobs in 2015.
|Diana Vreeland conspires with Jackie Kennedy|
Mrs. Vreeland left the reins to Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Onassis in 1989, with Nan Kempner also playing a big hosting role, and the fireball of The Met Ball really began to overheat fast. Anna Wintour took over in 1995 (though Liz Tilberis chaired the 1996 ball), and has raised about 200 mil since – but at what cost to its fashion cred? The most fun memorable moments have been the more outrageous ones – like in 2006, at the Anglomania event, when Johnny Rotten gave the society swells a Nazi salute. Or in 2012, when Marc Jacobs showed up in his see-through black lace Comme des Garcons dress over white boxer shorts. A group of billionaire moguls was staring at him – he stared back – until one of them said, “Marc, I would have gone with black panties with that dress.” And then there’s the night Taylor (Swift) met Tom (Hiddleston) and they melded into Hiddleswift for a brief bout of press pandemonium in 2016.
|Marc Jacobs in Comme des Garcons at the 2012 Met Ball
However you may want to bitch and moan – or bitch and laugh – about The Met Ball – Gwyneth Paltrow’s dubbed it “so un-fun,” Amy Schumer “punishment,” Tina Fey a “jerk parade, and Lena Dunham “a countdown to when I could escape” – it’s always been at the very least – cinematic, bigger than life – so much so it got its own doc, The First Monday in May in 2016, which featured Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton and Ball chair Anna Wintour at opposite ends of the spectrum of art vs. snobbery. And this June, it will become even more theatrical with the release of the all-female Oceans 8, when Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock)– soul and literal sister of George Clooney’s Danny – rounds up her own gang of well-turned-out neo-con artists: Cate Blanchett (right hand girl Lou), Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Rihanna (Nine Ball) – to rob The Met Ball’s biggest celeb (movie star Anne Hathaway playing fictional movie star Daphne Kluger) of her major non-borrowed ice, $150 mil ice, baby. (And what would it be without rife cameos by Kylie and Kendell Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, Derek Blasberg, Zac Posen and Ms. Wintour herself?)
|The Oceans 8 poster with Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, & Awkwafina
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Which means each of the New York’s least-finest lady thieves and thespians has to go undercover to The Met Ball to pull off the heist in gowns that turn out to have been created by design heroes of Met Balls present and past. Oceans 8 costume designer Sarah Edwards (Michael Clayton) broke it all down for me: “We had amazing designers build gowns for us for each character, in record time – most in two to five weeks. It can take a year to create a couture Met Ball gown. Some sent design
teams over to do fittings – but they were all informed first about the personalities/looks of each character, and the colors and themes we were going for. We essentially matched the designers to the actress/characters.”
|Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros|
“Sandra, as ringleader Debbie Ocean, wears a gown by Alberta Ferretti – a designer she’s worn the gowns of before. It’s a glittery black tulle number over nude, with silver and gold embroidery – and if you look closely, you’ll see the embroidery is in ocean hemes! Alberta was very generous with her time and really stepped up to the process.”“Cate, as Lou, a New York nightclub owner who’s a former club kid, wears Givenchy, designed by her friend Riccardo Tisci. Her character has this vintage vibe, but she’s also very city and savvy – so we picked an archival Givenchy piece, a green sequin jumpsuit with a very deep V neck.
|Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros|
“Rihanna, as Nine Ball – that transformation was hilarious because she plays this Caribbean Rastafarian computer hacker who wears fairly androgynous loose clothes throughout the story – her assistant couldn’t believe there were no high heels for her! When she goes to the Met Ball, we wanted her to be Cinderella – so we had Zac Posen make her a red satin hourglass bombshell gown. He’s done dresses for her in the past – and he’s in the movie, too. She has to pop out of a food truck on the street.”
|Oceans 8 photo courtesy of Warner Bros|
“Anne as Daphne wore Valentino – which she’s always worn a lot of. In the movie, she’s the co-chair of the Ball – and a movie star – so she has a 15-foot train on this Barbie-pink strapless lace gown. You see the train snaking up all those stairs – it’s like Rihanna in Guo Pei in 2015.”
|Mindy Kaling and Anne Hathaway on the set of Oceans 8
Photo: US Weekly
“Helena Bonham Carter plays Rose, an almost-has-been eccentric fashion designer. So she wears a Dolce & Gabbana hand painted fabric in an 18th-century silhouette, with a big headdress. When Rose does a fashion show, which is staged in the TWA building, I designed her whole collection – 50 pieces – because it had to come off as ‘tired,’ and we didn’t want to do that with any real designer pieces!”
“Mindy Kaling wears Naeem Khan – a gorgeous gold encrusted hand beaded gown from India. She plays a young Indian woman from a very traditional family that makes jewelry.”
“Sarah Paulson plays a former thief who’s now living in the suburbs and has two kids – her character goes undercover to work at Vogue. So we wanted her sleek, with elegant simplicity – so she wears a navy and black beaded Prada gown.” (And Paulson has indeed worn plenty of Prada.)
“Awkwafina (New York rapper/actress) plays a street pickpocket type – she’s a skateboard kid, very unphased by fashion, wears jeans and sneakers all the time. I had Jonathan Simkai make her a couture dress in teal with a rich orchid embroidery.”
“The biggest problem,” laughs Edwards, “is that, unlike the real Met Ball or the Oscars, each of our ladies only had one dress made for her grand entrance. And a lot of them showed up a day before we shot that scene! There was a lot of nail-biting.”
The rest of the humungous wardrobe – 67 changes for Sandra Bullock, 40 for Cate Blanchett, and many hundreds of others – is a mix of high and low, “sourced from everywhere we could get it,” says Edwards. “Cate wears some great suits but mixes them with t-shirts from a bin. We really only had two seasons of clothes to pull from.” Edwards had one very helpful fashion ally – Bergdorf’s legendary personal shopper Betty Halbrecht, also a friend of her mother’s. “I went to see her for help, and she said, ‘Sarah, there aren’t enough clothes in the world for this movie!’ It was a fashion behemoth. Nothing was untapped! I feel like the whole fashion world is a character in this movie. And now, all these clothes belong to Warner Bros. Oh, well. It’s a good thing I have a very simple style myself.