On the fashion calendar, few dates are as important as the first Monday in May. That’s when the annual fundraising gala for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, known simply as the party of the year, is held.
So what is the Met Gala? And why all the hype? It all starts with a major exhibition on a changing theme that showcases the museum’s extraordinary holdings. These displays have run the gamut theme-wise—from historical periods to genres to individual design innovators (Paul Poiret, Alexander McQueen, and Miuccia Prada). This year’s honoree is the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, and the show, named “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” will showcase 150 of her womenswear creations dating from the early 1980s. All the exhibitions serve to place fashion—old and new—within the context of contemporary culture. “Over the years,” observes Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s International Editor at Large, “the gala has become a reflection of our changing culture.”
In fact, the Met Gala is the hottest ticket in town. Often dubbed the “Fashion Oscars,” with a m-a-j-o-r red carpet, the event is, in Bowles’s words, “an ever more glamorous arena for high fashion.” (The many-stepped entrance allows for trains to display at full impact, too.) Among the sartorial highlights have been Kate Moss’s 2009 arrival in a draped lamé minidress accessorized with a shimmering turban, à la Gloria Swanson. Then there was the time when Sarah Jessica Parker and Alexander McQueen wore matching tartans to the Anglomania show. Rihanna’s voluminous yolk-yellow Guo Pei gown launched a thousand memes in 2015; the next year, on the heels of her groundbreaking Lemonade release, Beyoncé Knowles arrived solo, and, yes, slayed it in a beaded latex Givenchy Haute Couture dress. The antithesis of a come-as-you-are party, the Met Gala is an A-list bash that serves, says Bowles, “to establish and confirm fashion trends, through both the exhibitions themselves and the sartorial choices of the guests.”