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Met Gala 2024 Prep – All You Need to Know about “The Garden of Time”

Met Gala 2024 Prep – All You Need to Know about “The Garden of Time”

The Met Gala is approaching in big steps and like every year, there is a lot of speculation around the interpretation of the theme, the outfits and the guest list. Moreover, there are already quite of few indicators for some controversy and drama at this year’s “Biggest Night in Fashion” themed “The Garden of Time”. This article explains what the Met Gala actually is about, who gets to attend, why Anna Wintour is so important for it and what outfits we can expect to see this year given the theme and the Costume Institute’s blockbuster exhibition “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”.

You can also watch my video here:

5 Basic Facts to Get Started

  1. The Met Gala is one of the biggest fashion events of the year. It is an annual fundraiser for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute which takes place on the first Monday in May in New York. This year’s Met Gala takes place on 6 May 2024.
  2. The Met Gala always has a theme which is closely linked to the Costume Institute’s annual “blockbuster exhibition”. This year’s is gala theme is “The Garden of Time” and the exhibition is called “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”. As the Gala takes place just before the opening of the exhibition (which opens on 10 May 2024), it is also a major marketing event for the annual exhibition itself.
  3. Who is invited? Up until the event, the guest list of about 400-450 people is top secret. It is not enough to be able to pay for the tickets – Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue has the last say on the invites.
  4. What happens at the Met Gala, stays at the Met Gala. There is a strict no phone/social media policy (except for the red carpet). What is publicly known is that there is a dinner, a high-level performer and guests can visit the exhibition.
  5. Us “commoners” can watch the red carpet on TV or on the Vogue livestream.

Let’s look into the details of the Met Gala and let’s start with a very brief history of the event.

History of the Met Gala

The Costume Institute was founded in 1937 as “Museum of Costume Art” and it merged with the Metropolitan Museum in 1946. Two years later, publicist Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver, the then president of Lord & Taylor, started a charity event to raise funds for this institute and market its annual fashion exhibit. (We also met Lambert in my article about the history of fashion week. Furthermore, she was the founder of the CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America.) In 1959 the Costume Institute was turned into a full curatorial department promoting fashion as an art form, as garments could be studied and exhibited. As the Costume Institute has been the only curatorial department of the museum which had to raise its on operating funds, the Met Gala, until today, has been the major income source of the department.[1]

Today’s mega-event started as dinner which was by invitation only. Tickets cost USD 50 and until the 1970s, it took place at various famous locations in New York (e.g. the Waldorf Astoria, the Rockefeller Center or Central Park). While the event today is famous for the number of celebrities attending, the guest list back then involved New York society members and key fashion industry players. Today’s Met Gala is far from these comparatively “low-key” beginnings – it has turned into a multimillion-dollar event which is broadcast worldwide. There have been books and documentaries about it and the hashtag #metgala has over 2 million posts on Instagram. With the growing fame and recognition of the event, the ticket prices rose as well. In 1998, tickets were around USD 2,000. It is said that tickets for the 2023-Met Gala cost as much as USD 50,000 per person and USD 300,000 per company. And just within one year, the prices increased to USD 75,000 per person and the company tickets start at USD 350,000.[2]

The Met Gala today is one of the biggest fundraisers in New York City which raised more than USD 175 million until 2022. Last year’s Met Gala alone with the polarizing Karl Lagerfeld theme raised USD 22 million.[3]

Met Gala 2024 Prep All You Need to Know about The Garden of Time Founders
The “mothers” of the Met Gala: Diana Vreeland (left), Pat Shaver (not in picture), Pat Buckley (middle) and Anna Wintour (right); Picture Source: Met Gala Official Instagram Account.

How did this dinner turn into such a major social and fashion industry event? After Diana Vreeland left her position as editor-in-chief at American Vogue, she joined the Costume Institute as a consultant and turned the charity dinner into a celebrity-studded party with all the big names of the time: from Liza Minelli and Elizabeth Taylor, to Elton John, Andy Warhol, Cher and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. She was also the one who introduced the themes for the gala – similar to today, they were about designers, time periods or events. Vreeland with her media-background was very savvy and knew about the power of pop culture to increase press coverage.[4]

In the late 1970s, socialite Pat Buckley joined the Met Gala effort and also contributed to the further popularity of the event and also took over, after Vreeland passed away in 1989. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, has been co-chairing the Met Gala since the mid-1990s. She built on Vreeland’s strategy and turned it into the extravaganza we know today. Moreover, she moved the date from December to May in 2005 and introduced the performances of stars like Cher, Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, Lady Gaga or Rihanna to the evening’s programme. Since the 2010s, the range of celebrities has broadened – from designers, to models, to movie and sports stars and businesspeople. Furthermore, there is quite a competition on the red carpet for the most extravagant costumes. (Unfortunately, it has become more and more about the effect on social media rather than the beauty of the outfits themselves.)[5]

Anna Wintour is very much involved in everything – from planning to executing. Under Wintour, Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton were brought on – Koda as curator-in-charge and after his retirement in 2016, then-curator Bolton took over his position. The three worked on many exhibitions such as the blockbuster Chanel exhibition in 2005 and the highly successful Alexander McQueen retrospective in 2011. While the curators determine the topic, Wintour still has to approve it. And this is not the only thing which has to be run by her: In addition to this curatorial aspect, she is famously very much involved in the exclusive guest list.[6]

Who Attends the Met Gala?

In theory, you have to be able to pay for the ticket and be older than 18 years. Nevertheless, as mentioned previously, it needs more than just showing up and being able to buy the expensive tickets. Typically, designers or companies purchase tables and then invite guests. But it is not as easy as that. It is a similar strategy to buying an Hermès Birkin bag or a Bugatti car – it is about building a relationship. The most important relationship in this case is with Anna Wintour. And there are rumours that she is very picky – she is said to have rejected quite a few of the brands’ guests and replaced them with her choices. (By the way, the companies still had to pay for the table.)[7]

Met Gala 2024 Prep All You Need to Know about The Garden of Time Zendaya JLo
Zendaya and JLo will attend as co-chairs; Picture Source: Met Gala Official Instagram Account.

Just like every year, there is a lot of speculation about who will attend this year’s Met Gala. Rihanna has confirmed and Jennifer Lopez, Zendaya and Chris Hemsworth are attending as co-chairs. Probably the most speculation is around a possible attendance of Taylor Swift. It is very likely that Kim Kardashian or some of her family members are invited given their social media clout. According to Forbes, Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone will be attending and so will Gisele Bündchen, Uma Thurman and Cara Delevigne.[8] Last year, quite a few “regulars” did not attend – among them Blake Lively (who is famous for her Met Gala gowns) and Lady Gaga. Some interpreted their absence a “decline” in the importance of the event. But given the record amount of capital raised and the price increase of the tickets, it is unclear whether this is true.

What Happens at the Met Gala?

This is a well-kept secret. It is publicly known that there is a dinner, some famous performers take the stage and that the guests visit the exhibition. There is a strict no phone policy, and this also means no social media policy (except for the red carpet). Nevertheless, some celebrities managed to take some footage. (It is unlikely that Wintour was not aware of that given her importance in fashion and the business world overall and how involved she is in the Gala. It probably was yet another clever strategic marketing move by Wintour herself.)[9]

Needless to say, this fashion event is interesting because of the outfits. As mentioned previously, every year, there is a theme which dictates the dress code and then it is left to the attendants to interpret the topic – some do it more subtly than others. And for many, it has become a major opportunity to be featured on social media and fashion magazines. Up until the early 2000s, the outfits for the gala were not as extravagant or over-the-top or polarizing as they are today.[10]

Amber Valetta in a Marie Antoinette-inspired ensemble by Maggie Norris and John Galliano in 2004.

Probably one of the first of these “over-the-top”-interpretations was Amber Valetta in a Marie Antoinette-inspired outfit by John Galliano and Maggie Norris Couture in 2004. More recently, we probably all think of Rihanna’s yellow gown by Chinese designer Guo Pei in 2015, Lady Gaga changing her outfit four times in 2019, or even politician Alexandra Orcasio-Cortez in a white gown by Aurora James stating “Tax the Rich”.[11]

What Do We Know about the Met Gala 2024?

During the weeks leading up to the Met Gala, there is always a lot of speculation not only about the guests but also their outfits. The first clue for their interpretations is the exhibition of Costume Institute itself, as this determines the theme and, consequently, the outfits of the Met Gala as well. 

Met Gala 2024 Prep All You Need to Know about The Garden of Time Exhibition
The Costume Institute’s exhibition “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” opens on 10 May 2024; Picture Source: Official Website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.

“Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” is described as an exhibition which will “reactivate the sensory capacities of masterworks in the Museum’s collection through first-hand research, conservation analysis, and diverse technologies—from cutting-edge tools, artificial intelligence, and computer-generated imagery to traditional formats of x-rays, video animation, light projection, and soundscapes”.[12]

About 250 garments and accessories will be on display. Nature is the red thread and also symbolises the fragility of fashion and also its fleetingness – just like flowers, garments decay. It sounds a bit cryptic but it can be assumed that the museum aims to not only display garments but also create experiences using smells, sounds, textures. Visitors can expect to see the works of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Paul Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Charles Frederick Worth and Elsa Schiaparelli, just to name a few.[13]

Met Gala 2024 Prep All You Need to Know about The Garden of Time Exhibition Nature
Nature is the red thread through this year’s exhibition; Picture Source: Met Gala Official Instagram Account.

Despite some criticism of the exhibition online, I find this topic very interesting – even though it sounds a bit vague, I do trust Andrew Bolton and his team at the Costume Institute that this will be yet another exhibition to remember. When the topic was announced, I immediately thought about the Met Gala in 2022, when Kim Kardashian wore – and damaged – an original dress worn by Marilyn Monroe. I cannot help but ask myself if this topic was chosen to not only address this particular incident but also create awareness about archival fashion. Certain garments should not be worn anymore (just like the Monroe-dress), as they are historic artefacts and should be kept in a museum or conservational setting. According to the Costume Institute, some of the original garments of the exhibition cannot be displayed anymore. We can assume that the museum will use replicas or that this is where the digital aspect comes in.

What does this mean for the Met Gala? The topic of the exhibition and the Met Gala theme are usually linked, even though, the Met Gala theme often has a different title and it may diverge slightly from the exhibition. This year, the gala theme is “The Garden of Time” which is a short story by J.G. Ballard from 1962. I have to admit, it also is a bit confusing and I am curious how the theme will be interpreted. The story is about an aristocratic couple with a magical garden on their estate. When a mob threatens them, the husband tries to turn back time by breaking the flowers. When the mob shows up at the estate, the couple has turned to stone.[14]

This year, there is a lot of potential for vintage fashion, for example Alexander McQueen or John Galliano.

I am very curious about this year’s outfit choices. The red carpet last year was quite underwhelming and this year offers plenty of opportunities for vintage, which I would love to see. But I also said this last year for the Lagerfeld theme and it was very disappointing. There would be plenty of opportunities – such as vintage McQueen, maybe even Galliano. And as discussed in my article about the Oscars, replicas or reinterpretations have become popular. Therefore, I assume we may see some of these. (Maybe one of the “Miss Dior” flower dresses?) Moreover, given that Loewe is a sponsor of the Gala and that creative director Jonathan Anderson is a co-chair, we can expect to see quite a few Loewe/Jonathan Anderson ensembles.

And speaking of sponsors – one controversy is already guaranteed: TikTok is a sponsor of the gala and CEO Shou Zi Chew is also a co-chair – all while American lawmakers have been asking ByteDance, the company owning TikTok, to cut its ties with the Chinese government. It remains to be seen how prominent TikTok will be at this gala and if Shou Zi Chew will be attending. Up until the date of publishing the article, TikTok was listed as a sponsor on the Met Gala website and social media channels.[15]

Met Gala 2024 Prep All You Need to Know about The Garden of Time Jared Leto 2023
Unfortunately, the mainstream and social media focus is more on over-the-top outfits rather (like Jared Leto as Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette in 2023) than those who did more research about the Met Gala theme; Picture Source: Met Gala Official Instagram Account.

Let’s return to the fashion. I do not give up my hopes but I think it will be similar to previous years: I feel that many people do not really care about the background of the theme, they just choose an outfit which is vaguely related to it (just like last year, the black-and-white colour scheme, the ubiquitous camellias or exaggerated trains for the steps). This is probably due to social media, as many guests probably think about the effect of their outfits on social media first. Another reason is mainstream media coverage which means what journalists choose to feature. Last year, I watched the red carpet and discussed selected outfits of the red carpet. When I later compared my choices with the media coverage I realized that, unfortunately, most outfits covered were the outrageous ones – such as Doja Cat or Jared Leto as Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette. The (rather rare) beautiful interpretations of the theme (for example Alia Bhatt or Dua Lipa) were hardly discussed. I would definitely appreciate if we saw more “beauty” and substance this year than the mere social media effect. 

What do you think? Are you going to watch the Met Gala this year? Let me know in the comments or send me an email/DM.


Footnotes

[1] Britannica 2024, WWD 2024.

[2] Observer 2024, The New York Times 2024, WWD 2024.

[3] Vogue Business 2024, WWD 2024.

[4] WWD 2024.

[5] Britannica 2024, Observer 2024, WWD 2024.

[6] Britannica 2024, Observer 2024.

[7] WWD 2024.

[8] Forbes 2024.

[9] WWD 2024.

[10] Britannica 2024.

[11] Britannica 2024.

[12] Metropolitan Museum 2024.

[13] Metropolitan Museum 2024, The New York Times 2024.

[14] Forbes 2024, The New York Times 2024.

[15] Forbes 2024.


Sources

Britannica, Met Gala, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

Forbes, What We Know About Met Gala 2024: Backed By TikTok, With Zendaya And More Co-Chairing ‘Garden Of Time’ Themed Event, 16 April 2024, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

Metropolitan Museum, Exhibitions, Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

Observer, A Complete History of the Met Gala, Marissa DeSantis, 24 April 2023, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

The New York Times, Everything You Need to Know about the Met Gala 2024, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

Vogue Business, The 2023 Met Gala by the numbers, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

WWD, History of the Met Gala: How It Turned From Fundraiser to ‘Fashion’s Biggest Night’, last accessed on 24 April 2024.

Sources Title Image

See Also
Met Gala 2024 Review A Boring Red Carpet Saved by a Racing Driver

Met Gala Official Instagram Account


Disclaimer

This article is based on the personal, views, experiences and research of the author, no fees were received by the organisations and people mentioned above. All information as of the date of publishing/updating.


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