Published on May 25, 2017, at 10:18 p.m.
by Josie Seavers.
For most it’s another ordinary start to the week, but for A-list celebrities and top names in the fashion industry, the first Monday in May is the biggest night on New York’s social calendar. It is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit, known as the Met Gala.
The annual benefit, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vogue , is often dubbed the “Oscars of the East Coast,” with guests willing to pay anywhere from $25,000 for an individual ticket to upward of $175,000 for a table of 10 (and yes, that’s just a minimum). The evening also signifies the grand opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibition. This year, the exhibition entitled “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” honors Comme des Garcons fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and is the first to pay tribute to a living designer since its Yves Saint Laurent exhibit in 1983.
But, behind the glitz and glamour, one woman’s PR strategies come full circle to build relationships, enhance brand image and execute one of fashion’s biggest nights.
Rebranding the gala
Meet Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, and the driving force behind the Met Gala. Since the beginning of her reign as the gala’s co-chair in 1995, the Met Gala has raised more than $145 million for the Costume Institute, and has been transformed from an elegant dinner for museum donors into one of the biggest fundraising events held by any of New York’s cultural institutions.
Wintour’s transformation of the gala into the star-studded event we know today has brought much attention to the Costume Institute. In 2015, the year the single evening raised almost $12 million for the Costume Institute, more than 800,000 people visited the “China Through the Looking Glass” exhibition. That same year, it was the subject of filmmaker Andrew Rossi’s documentary “The First Monday in May,” which examined the gala’s inner workings.
Each year, we love to see the fashion that graces the gala’s iconic 150-yard red carpet. Being that this year’s attire called for avant-garde black tie, some attendees took daring to a whole new level when it came to clothing, or lack thereof. Not only is the Met Gala a chance for celebrities and designers to take fashion risks, but it is also an opportunity to build relationships and increase recognition through the clothes they wear.
Wintour, who has significant control over the guest list, will help connect brands and celebrities. Vogue will often suggst to a brand which celebrity guest it should invite; in turn, that celebrity will wear that brand’s clothing to the Met Gala. This year, guests (including Rihanna and Caroline Kennedy) wore one-of-a-kind Comme des Garcons gowns, promoting the exhibition’s honorary designer.
For new designers looking to make their first big debut, the Met Gala is the ultimate ticket. Wintour ensures that up-and-coming designers worthy of attending the gala get invited. And if you’re one of the lucky new faces in the industry who happens to score an invitation, don’t worry if you can’t afford the hefty price tag because Vogue will cover the costs. In the eyes of the retailers who attend the event, this implies Vogue’s support and establishes credibility.
Due largely in part to Wintour, the gala raises millions for the Met, attracts thousands of guests to its fashion exhibition, promotes designers and connects celebrities with brands. But perhaps the person reaping the most benefits is Wintour herself.
Not only does Wintour and her Vogue team have significant control over the guest list, but they also create a meticulous seating plan for almost 700 guests, decide which reporters go where, and, often, what certain guests will wear. Using this control to her advantage, she chooses to invite those who will best exemplify Vogue’s brand and the image she wants the evening to convey, and is not afraid to turn away those who don’t.
In 2014, the Metropolitan Museum of Art honored Wintour’s efforts by naming the newly renovated Costume Institute the “Anna Wintour Costume Center” in a ceremony attended by former first lady, Michelle Obama. As the co-chair and driving force behind the party of the year, Wintour has positioned herself as one of, or perhaps the, most powerful woman in fashion.