The first Monday of May is reserved for the epic Costume Institute Gala, where hundreds of celebrities, moguls, and influencers gather to pay homage to fashion, Vogue, Anna Wintour, and themselves. It’s the cool kids club that excludes everyone with under 1 million Instagram followers or 1 billion dollars. Streets are cordoned off, hotels sold-out, and paparazzi ubiquitous for this one-night-only extravaganza.
Over the years, it has become not only a celebrity funfest with thousands of spectators gathering to glimpse their favorite Kardashian or rap star but also a tribute to the great cultural mecca known as New York – whose immense energy is documented in movies, songs, and memorabilia. This year the Big Apple has shifted from being the epicenter of fashion, finance, and frivolity to a place of lugubrious fragility where disease and death have littered the gold paved streets.
The question undoubtedly arises as to whether the culture of celebrity has become irrelevant during these perilous times – as thousands of unemployed workers wait for hours to grab a bag of free groceries. Viewing Vogue’s Instagram, virtual video, and Twitter page recapping the fashion of past Met Galas leaves me wondering if worshipping celebrities who worship money, sex, and commodification is a noble pursuit. Why not honor those who work for a living-and often save lives in the process?
For the Met Gala to maintain any level of relevancy, it will have to adapt its image to the current exigencies of society. Anna Wintour acknowledged the triviality of the evening in comparison to the current pandemic with a letter stating, “with all the grief and hardship in this country, the postponement of a party is nothing.” However, she admitted her disappointment as the exhibition: “About Time: Fashion and Duration” was the most extraordinary and poignant show curator Andrew Bolton had ever created, according to Wintour.
The Vogue Instagram page chose hundreds of its favorite looks along with the craziest celebrity costumes, and couples who shut down the red carpet — to memorialize the gala’s anniversary. However, in the nearly 75 years the gala has taken place, there are only three groundbreakingly iconic moments that I can recall: Princess Diana in 1996, Marc Jacobs in 2012, and Rihanna in 2009.
The gala was catapulted to stratospheric heights when Princess Diana stunned the globe in her classic Dior by John Galliano lingerie-inspired dress in 1996 — sending shockwaves throughout the fashion world. The gown was sexy without baring too much: a lesson in how to seduce without letting it all hang out — take notes, Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. The dress ushered in a whole category of design known as sleepwear worn as eveningwear and changed the trajectory of fashion history. Almost 25 years later, the dress remains equally relevant and classic.
Marc Jacobs made a similarly revolutionary fashion statement when he paired a Comme des Garcons lace polo dress with boxer shorts and pilgrim shoes at the 2012 Met Gala. This was years before genderless fashion had become mainstream, and the confidence he exuded in the over-the-top getup was astounding. He empowered millions of men to make similarly bold fashion choices without apprehension.
Finally, Rihanna went for broke in 2009 when she wore a Dolce and Gabbana tuxedo that was uncharacteristically modest and unequivocally memorable. The theme that evening was “The Model As Muse.” And after that monumental moment, she became a global fashion inspiration for millions. Current style stars Melania Trump, Angelina Jolie, and Janelle Monae, have copied this timeless look to great effect.
My years spent covering the red carpet and after-parties leaves me nostalgic. Vogue captured a bit of the magic by live streaming Florence Welch and Virgil Abloh to the masses on Monday evening. However, there is no experience equal to the palpable energy streaming through the crowded New York City streets that first Monday in May. I am hopeful that some iteration of the iconic evening can remain intact. However, the necessity for encompassing all walks of life into this formerly $35,000 per person evening is more glaring than ever. Let’s finally pay tribute to those on whom our society depends not for entertainment but for life itself.