Tonight is the night – the fashion world looks to New York, when celebrities and major personalities of the industry are attending the Met Gala. Every year, on the first Monday in May, the newspapers and social media feeds are full of the extravagant – and sometimes rogue – interpretations of the annual theme. You may remember Rihanna’s yellow fur-trimmed gown by designer Guo Pei for the “China Through the Looking Glass”-Gala in 2015, or last year, when Kim Kardashian tried to squeeze herself into an iconic gown once worn by Marilyn Monroe.
I enjoy following the gala, seeing the outfits and, of course, discussing them with fellow fashion aficionados. But the reason why I am always excited about the Met Gala is a very different one. While the Gala itself is omnipresent in the news, many people are not aware that the major reason for this very event is a rather educational one. In the late 1940s, the Gala was introduced to raise funds for the newly established Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum, short “the Met”, as the opening of their annual exhibition. The Costume Institute today houses one of the biggest fashion collections in the world, comprised of over 30,000 objects spanning across seven centuries. The Institute not only works on exhibitions but is also an “authority” in publishing fashion-related research and it runs a big renovation department. (I am sharing a big dream with you here: One day, I would like to be able to see the archive.)
In the 1970s, then Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland turned the Met Gala into a more glamorous event. But the Gala as we know it today with all the media and celebrity frenzy around it, goes back to Anna Wintour, Vreeland’s successor as editor-in-chief of Vogue and chairperson of the Costume Institute since 1995. Under her leadership, the event has raised millions for the Institute. The guest list is very exclusive – around 600 people, each and every one has to be confirmed by Anna Wintour herself. A seat is rumoured to cost USD 50,000 for this year’s Met Gala. But even if you had the change to pay for a seat, participation is very exclusive and invite-only – a clever marketing strategy by Wintour.
While the attendance of the Gala will be a dream for most of us, the exhibitions and research of the Met are much more accessible to “us commoners”. Unfortunately, I have not made it to the most recent exhibitions of the Costume Institute, but I hope I will be able to visit soon. When it comes to curation and innovative exhibition formats, the Metropolitan Museum is one of the museums I truly admire. I would have loved to visit “China Through the Looking Glass” in 2015. Just by watching the documentary about, I was in awe of the preparation – less the work around the Gala but rather for the exhibition itself. There is just so much which goes into the planning, the details, the small things we think nobody would ever notice. Nobody notices what is necessary to achieve perfection, but the slightest deviation from it, destroys everything. If you have not watched the documentary, please do, it is just beautiful – no matter if you are passionate about fashion and its history, if you work in the arts and culture sector or if you are just interested in the behind-the-scenes of a very big project. I learned a lot from it.
This year, with the exhibition “A Line of Beauty”, the Met pays tribute to designer Karl Lagerfeld. Similarly, the theme of the Gala is “In Honour of Karl”. I have to admit, I have my difficulties with Lagerfeld. I do admire him for his discipline and, without a doubt, he was a forward-looking genius in many ways – with his designs, his business acumen and even by turning himself into a kind of leader of a “cult”, if you may say. At the same time, Lagerfeld – and by extension many of his designs – stood for things I did not appreciate about the industry. I still remember him criticizing H&M after their collaboration in 2004. According to the designer, the Swedish fashion brand sold his garments in what Lagerfeld considered too big (everything above a European size 36). Nevertheless, I am really excited and curious to see how the Met brought this year’s theme to life in the exhibition. I am eagerly awaiting the catalogue which I pre-ordered. And of course, I want to see how the guests of this year’s Gala interpret pay their tribute to the designer.
I have also something very special for you: I teamed up with fashion & art blogger and vintage queen Madame Faction. We will both watch the live stream for you and discuss our views later on in a video: Was the Gala really “In Honour of Karl”? Who did their homework? Which of Karl’s designs did we see? Where there any new interpretations? And who got it completely wrong? And much more.
You can watch our recorded conversation here.