by Tierney Bricker | Wed., May. 1, 2019 7:45 AM
It's the Super Bowl of style. It's the Oscars of fashion. It's the Met Gala.
Now that it's finally May, the countdown to the 2019 Met Gala is officially on, with the May 6 fete set to gift us mere mortals with the most glamorous and exclusive event of the year. Just how historic is the affair, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? The museum is only closed four days out of the year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and the first Monday in May.
Though the first Met Gala was held in 1948, it truly didn't become the luxe event its known for today until Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour took over as the gala's chair in 1995. Ever since, it has become one of the most important (and charitable) red carpets—if not the most important—of the year, with hundreds of people working year-round to stage the event, which brings together the biggest names in fashion, acting, music, sports and politics for an unforgettable night not meant to be shared on social media.
2019's theme is "Camp: Notes on Fashion," with superstars Lady Gaga, Harry Styles and Serena Williams all serving as co-chairs, along with Gucci creative director's Alessandro Michele. Meanwhile, the 183-member committee features major Hollywood power players like Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Bradley Cooper, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, Kerry Washingtonwith Nnamdi Asomugha, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto, Katy Perry, and Lena Waithe.
If you thought that list of names was impressive, just wait until you hear about the meticulous level of planning that goes into the star-studded event, including months spent just on the seating chart alone.
We've compiled all of the juiciest behind-the-scenes morsels of information about the secretive affair we could find, including intel from Wintour and Sylvana Ward Durrett, Vogue's director of special projects who has planned the Met Gala for over a decade.
If you're lucky enough to score an invite to fashion's biggest event of the year, a solo ticket costs $30,000, while a table is yours for $275,000.
Fortunately, not everyone has to pay to attend, as Wintour is known to invite up-and-coming designers to the gala, and usually, the celebrities invited by a specific brand to represent them on the red carpet do not have to pay.
And fun fact: there actually is a waitlist!
"I've known of society names who couldn't get a ticket and are prepped to go if there's a last-minute seat that becomes available," vintage store owner Cameron Silver, who has attended the event several times, reveled to Page Six. "They have their look ready even if they aren't certain of whether they will actually have a seat days before the event."
It varies, with 500 being considered intimate and 800, the largest number of attendees the Met Gala has ever entertained, being deemed too big.
"We do want the experience to feel intimate for our guests, so in the past few years, we've really scaled back and dropped numbers by almost 200 or 300 people," Ward Durrett told Fast Company.
Despite its reputation for opulence and glam, the organizers actually want the event to feel intimate for the lucky few who get to attend, with Wintour usually starting the list with the hopes of keeping it at 500. "We want to keep this an intimate setting because that's why people come to this," Ward Durrett is overheard saying in The First Monday in May.
And just because a A-lister is invited doesn't mean they automatically get a plus one for their significant other; their partner must also land an invite of their own.
There's no rest for the fashionable as plans for the event usually start on the Tuesday immediately after the first Monday in May. (FYI, about 100 people work on the event year-round, including 10 full-time Vogue employees.)
"I'm a big fan of a one-sheet," Ward Durrett explained of her process. "We have sort of a running to-do list that just gets longer and longer as we get closer—and we literally go through [it] every day, even if it's redundant."
The first bullet point on her list? The tent. "Then you [write out] everything that's involved surrounding [that aspect]." Making this list helps her to think about the event "from start to finish—and to make sure that we're not missing anything."
As for how involved Wintour is in the details, Vogue contributing editor Andre Leon Talley said in The First Monday in May, "Anna is meticulously vetting every single thing, from the napkins to the forks to the lighting. The detail of the flowers, the detail of the Ushers, how they're dressed, everything has been vetted for months and weeks and months and weeks."
And she prefers to keep the details close to her iconic Chanel dress, with Vogue contributing editor Plum Sykes telling The New York Post, "It's very secretive. [Wintour] doesn't want anyone to know what she's planning or what she's up to until the minute they walk down that red carpet and through the door."
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If you've ever tried to do seating arrangements for a wedding, you might have a tiny understanding of just how difficult it is to do the seating chart for the Met Gala. This is one of the most aspects of the event that the team spends the most time on, strategically seating guests by looking at common interests.
"A lot of thought goes into who sits next to who, if they sat together last year, if they've sat next to each other at other events, so much goes into it, it's shocking," Ward Durrett said in The First Monday in May. "A lot of power-brokering."
Of course, each year the seating arrangements go through many, many changes as the event takes shape, with Ward Durett telling Vogue she learned early on to invest in Velcro over post-it notes to avoid any errors. "There have been many iterations of the seating chart," she said. "When I first started, we had just little stickies, and it was a nightmare—things were falling off, we were losing people and rewriting names a million times a day."
Color-coding is also used, as Ward Durrett likes to go with the woman-man-woman-man pattern if possible. And another key rule that might surprise you: "Never sear spouses next to each other," she said. "The whole point of these things is to meet new people, and to be interested in what others are doing. What's the point if you come here to hang out with your husband?" Sorry, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds!
Listen, every event has that table that gets the nosebleed seats, usually near the kitchen and/or the bathroom. The Met Gala is no exception, so designers' table position usually changes each year. And Wintour is very involved in the process, infamously chastising her team for trying to hide the H&M table in a scene in The First Monday in May. "We shouldn't bury this table…seriously, that's not fair," she said.
Though it's not a luxury brand or atelier, H&M (also an advertiser in Vogue and other publications) and other more accessible brands such as Topshop and Zara have started having more of a presence on fashion's biggest night. Making its debut in 2015, H&M scored a big win by having Sarah Jessica Parker wear a custom gown.
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Given that it is one of the most A-list events of the year, it's impossible not to have Hollywood exes and frenemies potentially seated near each other. Remember when Selena Gomez and The Weeknd attended together, as well as his then-ex Bella Hadid? So it's likely taken into consideration that say Taylor Swift and Katy Perry probably shouldn't have been at the same table back at the height of their feud, but ultimately, the overall event trumps any potential tension or rivalries among the attendees.
"You can't please everybody. We always like to think there's not a bad [seat] in the house, which really there isn't. You have to come away confident in the notion that you are doing your best, and that inevitably not everyone will be happy," Ward Durrett said of making sure guests are happy with their placement at the event. "But we have a pretty good track record. The instances are few and far between, and we always try and work more closely with them the next year to manage expectations."
(In one memorable scene in the First Monday in May, Ward Durrett had placed three Velcro tabs to the side of her seating chart, bluntly telling Wintour, "Those are people I am hoping will go away.")
Alas, not everyone is happy with their assigned seat, as famed fashion critic Cathy Horn noted in her 2006 piece for The New York Times: "John Lydon, the former Sex Pistol known as Johnny Rotten, found his seat — the last at a long table and arguably one of the least desirable in the highly orchestrated seating plan — he was visibly upset...[he] stormed out twice, cursing museum workers."
He eventually took his seat.
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During a 2018 appearance on The Late Late Show, James Corden asked Wintour to name any celebrity she would never invite back to the Met Gala.
"Donald Trump," she responded. (President Trump and wife Melania Trump have attended the Met Gala several times over the years, though they last attended in 2012.)
Another celeb who claims to have been banned from the Met Gala? Former Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn, who alleged he was blacklisted by Wintour after telling a story she found unflattering about her to The Post.
"All hell broke loose, it was insane," he said on E!'s Fashion Police back in 2016. "So we have had an open war ever since."
Yes, dinner is actually served at the event, with Stephen Colbert once revealing all of the guests had waited for Wintour to take her seat before digging in.
Like every other aspect, Wintour is heavily involved in the menu planning for each gala.
A Vogue employee told the Post that Wintour once banned ingredients that had the potential to get stuck in your teeth (parsley) or could potentially give a guest bad breath, like a lot of garlic, or worse, stain their gown, so appetizers are made to be easily eaten.
Wintour usually prefers to food served to somewhat correspondent to the theme, which sometimes doesn't work out, like in 2011.
Glorious Food owner Sean Driscoll, who has catered every Met Gala since 1995, said the decision to serve lamb potpies for "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," resulted in "a lot of special requests" as "many [guests] did not want to eat that."
But they also want the food to look good, with The First Monday in May director Andrew Rossi admitting he was shocked by the level of detail, especially when he attended a tasting with Wintour. "We see Anna literally going on her phone to look up the presentations of different food," he said.
No one is sure why, as no official explanation as ever been given as to why selfies and the use of social media in general was banned from the glamorous and already-FOMO-inducing event, but it was instated in 2015 by Wintour.
At the time, a source close to Vogue revealed to Pret-a-Reporter than a notice went out to all invitees, warning, "The use of phones for photography and social media will not be permitted inside the gala."
The magazine decided to comment on the report, but a source told THR at the time, "It has solely to do with guests' security and enjoyment of the event."
Wintour's disdain for phones at the event was clear in a memorable scene from The First Monday in May, when she discovered a male celebrity (whose name had been blurred, per Wintour's request) had decided to attend the event after initially declining. "Can he not be on his cellphone the entire time then?" she asked Ward Durrett.
In an interview with The Post, Ward Durrett explained, "Anna is sort of an old-school traditionalist. She likes a dinner party where people are actually speaking to each other. We aren't sitting over people's shoulders, but if it's an obvious thing we might gently remind them."
Still, despite Wintour's ban, snap-happy celebs have broken the rule many times since it was instated, including Kylie Jenner's infamous bathroom selfie from the 2017 affair.
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Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Technically, you must be 18 years or older to attend the big event, with organizers of the event confirming the age restriction ahead of the 2018 Met Gala after Maddie Ziegler revealed she was unable to attend because she was only 15. "I can't go, because I'm not old enough!" she told The Hollywood Reporter.
"It's not an appropriate event for people under 18," the event's organizer confirmed to THR, with the new age limit going into effect that year.
Prior to 2018, some of the youngest attendees included siblings Jaden Smith and Willow Smith attending in 2016 when they were 17 and 15, respectively, Elle Fanning making her debut at the event when she was just 13, and Hailee Steinfeld attending her first Met Gala in 2011.
But there seems to be a loophole for the younger fashionistas in Hollywood: Alas, there is an exception to the rule: A minor can attend if their parents are in attendance/invited.
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While Wintour has final say over every attendee, their gowns technically do not have to be approved by the Vogue EIC (though she is aware of everything that gets to walk the famous carpet).
"Each celebrity has been chosen to wear a gown by a designer. It's like assignments," Andre Leon Talley said in The First Monday in May, with former Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci, who dressed Beyoncé and Madonna for the 2016 Met Gala, further explaining, "Each designer brings his own muse. You bring a person that most represents your aesthetic."
That means for the most part a celebrity's look is up to the designer that invited them to the event.
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While each year's gala has a theme—this year's is "Camp: Notes on Fashion," last year's was "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination"—there's no strict guidelines when it comes to a guest or designer's interpretation of that theme.
Of course, the theme is strongly encouraged, but not actually required of guests attending. For celebrities invited by a brand to attend as a designer's muse, their ensemble is really up to the designer.
But how is the theme actually selected? It's a long process that starts well over a year before the first Monday of May, with Andrew Bolton, the tireless longtime curator of The Costume Institute at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, finding a theme that is culturally relevant.
"What I try to do is work on a topic that seems timely, and that defines a cultural shift that's happening or is about to happen," he explained to Vogue. "We always try to have a menu of shows that are dynamic, that go back and forth on subjects from the past and the present, between thematic shows and monographic ones of a single designer. We try to mix it up."
After he narrows down his search, he presents it for approval to the museum's director before Wintour then signs off on it about one year ahead of time.
"It would be difficult to do it without her support," the esteemed British curator explained. "Anna works out what sponsors would be appropriate for the exhibition. Sometimes I have an idea, and it's less of a big idea or popular idea, which is not terribly appealing to sponsors."
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Once the guests walk the red carpet and survive the iconic steps, they greet the hosts in a receiving line, which generally takes quite a bit of time as the line gets rather long to air-kiss and exchange pleasantries with Wintour and the other chairs.
After that, they are invited to walk through the exhibit, which celebrates opening of The Costume Institute's spring exhibition before it opens to the public. After that, there is a dinner and then it's time to party, mingle and network, with music, dancing and performances, with past musical guests including Rihanna and Lady Gaga, among other major names.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Speaking of the high-profile performers, a lot of the stress in terms of planning the Met Gala stems from the entertainment aspect of the night. Why? Because they are paid to perform.
As infamously documented in The First Monday in May, Ward Durrett faced a major budgetary issue when it came to that year's performer, Rihanna.
"It's about twice as much as any performer we've ever had," she said of Rihanna's undisclosed fee after having a conversation on the phone with someone from the superstar's team. "They're not interested in making it come down any further."
Eventually, Wintour was called to step in and figure the situation out, with Rihanna going on to perform.
Celebrities are allowed to bring their own security guards to the event, in addition to the ones hired by the Museum for the red carpet.
But really, the objects that require the most security detail are the jewels being worn by the attendees. One year Blake Lively wore $3.5 million worth of baubles, while Karlie Kloss was once draped in $2.5 million worth of Forevermark jewels for the event.
"The full security process is kept top secret because of the incredibly high value of the pieces involved, but there is always a security guard present until the pieces are safely returned," a Forevermark rep told E! News. Additional security measures are also taken sometimes, like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) trackers and video monitoring.
So yes, Ocean's 8 definitely got that aspect of the Met Gala right!
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Given that many dresses are custom-made for the Met Gala or are pulled from designer's couture archives, it's rare that celebrities are allowed to keep their gowns. More often than not, they go back to the design house to be archived.
In 2018, Balmain's Olivier Rousteing teamed up with Bono's RED to auction off custom pieces worn by celebs such as Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Trevor Noah and more, with 100% of the proceeds going toward the foundation's Global Fund.
So...is it May 6 yet?