The Met Gala, taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan tonight, is sure to feature plenty of crazy and ridiculous outfits on the red carpet.
But it’s the Met Ball itself, which has long prided itself as fashion equivalent of the Oscars, that is increasingly becoming renowned for being trashy, déclassé and lame.
This year’s theme of the event, formally known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, is “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons” honoring the 74-year-old Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo.
The Metropolitan Museum hosts its benefit to raise money for its fashion department- the Costume Institute- but proceedings are presided over by micro-managing Vogue Editor-in-chief- Anna Wintour who was one of Hillary Clinton’s most vocal celebrity cheerleaders.
Indeed with Katy Perry one of this year’s co-chairs, it’s hard not to regard the Met Gala as a consolation ball for last year’s Democrat Presidential election fiasco. Don’t be surprised if Chelsea Clinton, who has attended several Met Galas, shows up to reinforce the “political wake” theme.
The days of the late Pat Buckley, the wife of the conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., being chairwoman of the Met Gala are long gone. The liberal vibe is enhanced by Caroline Kennedy serving as a co-chairwoman.
President Trump has attended the Met Gala on several occasions with wife Melania Trump as have his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the latter pair as most recently as last year. Perhaps wisely, this year they are giving the event a wide berth.
The President is frequently called out for being trashy so it’s ironic that he attended the black-tie do when it was in its prime. Tickets for this year’s Met Gala might range between $30,000 and $50,000 but the event has become incredibly cheap of late.
In the early aughts, the occasion was noted for being the epitome of A-list elegance with balls such as the 18th century French “Dangerous Liaisons” party in 2004. But in recent years the Met Gala has deteriorated into a high-end tacky marketing event with trashy talking points supplied by celebrities going to ever more garish extremes to embrace that year’s fashion theme.
Take Sarah Jessica Parker’s flaming red Philip Treacy headpiece, supposed to accompany the Met Gala’s 2015 “China: Through the Looking Glass” theme, which sent social media into scathing meltdown. At the same event model Poppy Delevingne- older sister of Cara Delevingne- raised eyebrows by wearing a plunging red Marchesa gown decked with poppies and her joke to reporters, “I’m going as opium!”, offended social justice warriors who still view poppies as a symbol of British aggression during the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s.
Madonna interpreted the Costume Institute’s 2013 exhibit: “Punk: From Chaos to Couture” as giving her license to wear ripped fishnet stockings, a tartan studded jacket, leather gloves and no pants. The ridicule escalated when Madge declared that she was “making a political statement”.
Then there’s the Met Gala’s ruthless disinvitation policy. While overseeing a gala that seeks to evoke a timeless feel, Wintour’s models-of-the-moment philosophy means that celebrities, that have become used to attending, find themselves thrown off the guest list without warning.
This year supermodel Coco Rocha told the New York Post she was banned (perhaps because she accused Katy Perry of being a “copycat” over a leopard print outfit they recently both wore to separate events). A previous Met Gala attendee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Heat Street: “The first year I went, Tinsley Mortimer, Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan were all there. None of them are invited anymore.”
He said he found out in 2010 that he was disinvited: “It was so depressing to be struck off the list that I went to Nantucket the night it was happening. But now it seems like it’s become just another party so I’m fine with not being invited.”
The source added this year he knew of a former attendee who was furiously lobbying to attend “only because she’s got a book coming out that she needs to promote, not because she misses going to the gala.”
The Met Gala’s social decline has been rapid. Nearly a decade ago Julia Roberts and George Clooney attended the ball and afterwards celebrated Clooney’s 47th birthday, together with the cream of Hollywood, at a party hosted by Giorgio Armani at Bungalow 8 nightclub (a party that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump famously tried and failed to get into).
Contrast that with the tawdry tale of Solange Knowles at a 2014 Met Gala after-party being caught on camera in an elevator at the Standard Hotel attacking her brother-in-law Jay Z because he wanted to party with Rihanna against the wishes of her sister Beyoncé.
Wintour has tirelessly tried to restore the glamor. Last year Vogue publisher Condé Nast produced movie documentary The First Monday in May, a behind-the-scenes look at the Met Ball. They hoped to replicate the success of Vogue doc The September Issue but the attempt to let daylight in on the magic disastrously backfired with few people seeing the film. Instead the movie generated a string of embarrassing stories.
Wintour said in The First Monday in May of a prospective unnamed Met Ball invitee “Can he not be on his cellphone the entire time?” The celebrity’s name was blurred out in the film but the New York Post’s Page Six reported it was Ricky Van Veen, future techie husband of “Girls” actress Allison Williams. Wintour was also heard shouting down Calvin Klein’s request for handsome actor Josh Hartnett to sit at his table by asking “What has he done lately?”
Another problem? Now that the Met Ball no longer dares to be different- after all the Kardashian/Jenner clan are annual attendees- it’s not as enjoyable an experience as it used to be. Gwyneth Paltrow opened up about this in 2013 telling Australian radio station KIIS 106.5: “It seems like it’s the best thing in the world, you always think, ‘Oh my god, it’s gonna be so glamorous and amazing and you’re going to see all these people” and then you get there and it’s so hot and it’s so crowded and everyone’s pushing you.”
That indiscretion meant Paltrow’s invite got lost in the mail for a few years although she is now close again with Wintour so she might well be there tonight. (Rachel Zoe and Tim Gunn are reportedly still banned though for displeasing Wintour. Gunn had gossiped about seeing Wintour carried down a flight of stairs by her bodyguards after she refused to ride in an elevator with the hoi polloi. Zoe had claimed she was “more influential” than Wintour).
Insiders partly attribute the decline to a plunge in the stock of the Costume Institute that it supports. Andrew Bolton replaced Harold Koda as the Costume Institute’s Lead Curator in 2015. Yet Bolton is notorious for leaving much to the last minute and his curated costume visions have met with mixed success.
Bolton curated the Punk: Chaos to Couture 2013 show, of which the New York Times wrote: “Fashion has rarely looked as frivolous, beside the point and 1 percent-ish as here.”. Bolton later confessed: “It was disappointing for me. The narrow-minded, often preconceived response it generated made me throw up my arms and think ‘I just can’t win.'”
The Met Gala continues to be a money-spinner. In 2016 it raised $13.5 million for the Met’s Anna Wintour Costume Center. But according to the Met’s own figures, the 2014 gala cost an eye-popping $3.6 million to put on.
With the Met currently in crisis and scandal following the forced resignation of its director Thomas Campbell under a cloud and a deficit projected to reach $40 million by 2019, not to mention ongoing layoffs and program restrictions, the Met Gala’s long-term lavish future is by no means assured.
The Met Ball will generate plenty of publicity- not least in Vogue– and companies such as Apple and H & M are co-sponsoring this years event. But like an aging socialite who is finding invites to the most exclusive parties harder to come by than before, its best days are long gone.
For all the money it raises and media coverage it generates, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, what profits a Met which gains the world’s attention but loses its soul?