Met Galas, he’s been to quite a few. But James Corden, chatting at this year’s cocktail reception, looked around her and said this might be her favorite so far.
“Classy,” he explained. “It just feels very elegant.”
The TV host waved his arm around the room, eyeing the hundreds of guests who had followed the tailoring instructions, “gilded glamour,” and arrived in the best Gilded Age finery they could muster. Elegant dresses, glittering with gold. Classic black and white. Tail suits and even some top hats. Headdresses and bustles and perhaps the accessory of the night: the tiara, worn by none other than Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who directs the gala, wearing a family heirloom. Even allowing for creativity, this was not the night of cleverly ripped jeans.
Of course, take one letter away from “classy” and you have “classy,” with all the misleading implications of channeling an era that saw the creation of excessive wealth and income inequality in the United States. Some guests wrestled with that thought as they pondered the meaning of the evening. Others pointed out, accurately, that the gala funds the Met’s Costume Institute, which allows for exhibits like “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” which opens this week and seeks to uncover unsung heroes and untold stories in fashion history. American, especially women. and women of color.
Others said the night was an important way to show that New York was back in full force, even with the pandemic still upon us. “We’re celebrating craftsmanship and we’re celebrating America,” said celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who again this year curated the evening’s menu, choosing a list of female chefs and taking the main course himself: a barbecue-style beef , he said, with corn and succotash. “We are showing that New York is back.”
Certainly New York florists were back, if they hadn’t already. The question is whether there were roses left in New York after Monday’s gala. The outer steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were lined with 50,000 in hot pink, with another 75,000 surrounding the centerpiece of the lobby. Another 150,000 roses showered every inch of the Great Hall’s staircase, a stunning backdrop for the hosts’ receiving line.
Also amazing: the giant centerpiece, this year the tallest it has ever been: a 50-foot golden creation that represents the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand. (Museum officials said this year, for the first time, the centerpiece will remain in place another day, on public view.)
As guests entered from the red carpet, with the crowd screaming outside, they walked past a 12-piece chamber orchestra that played American classics like “At Last” through dinner. After greeting Wintour and her celebrity hosts (Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Regina King), guests strolled through the Arms and Armor galleries to the American Wing and the sprawling Charles Engelhard Court, where cocktails and where the curators built a bridge to access the exhibition in the period rooms.
For the most part, guests avoid the screening for the cocktails, but there was a decent flow of people in and out of the show, for which nine film directors were brought in to create cinematic vignettes. It was, some of the directors said, an opportunity to engage in a different kind of storytelling.
“It was really fun,” said Tom Ford, not just a top fashion designer, but one of those nine directors. Ford, who was assigned a room that housed a large circular painting of Versailles and its gardens, chose to dramatize the story of the Battle of Versailles, a famous night for American fashion in 1973, when American sportswear designers presented their French haute couture counterparts. Ford decided to stage a real conflict, involving weapons such as fencing foils. “My 9-year-old son was watching ‘Mulan’ a lot,” he joked, when asked about his inspiration. “You better go see that now,” said actor/producer/director Mindy Kaling, who had been in talks with Ford. “Yes!” he encouraged her, and she left.
Meanwhile, inside the exhibit, director Autumn de Wilde (“Emma”) was showing her own work in the period rooms to some friends. “That woman probably just lost the house on her game,” she said, pointing to a clearly distressed female mannequin next to an overturned card table. “She wanted to show how messy people’s lives are,” she said. “A beautiful house does not mean a beautiful life.”
At that moment, a true “Golden Age” character entered: actress Denée Benton, who stars in the HBO series of the same name. She complimented de Wilde on her work, and de Wilde told her that she was “obsessed” with her show.
Benton may not have chosen to wear a Gilded Age bustle, but Franklin Leonard did, two of them, actually. Leonard, a film executive who helped curator Andrew Bolton choose the diverse slate of film directors for the exhibit, said he was imitating Frederick Douglass in a coat that had not a bustle but two, on either side, one of the smartest looks in cinema. evening.
“I guess it’s a double bustle,” he said, crediting designer Ken Nicholson. Leonard, who attended his first gala, said it was a surreal experience. “I, the captain of the high school math team in Columbus, Georgia, never thought I’d wear a Frederick Douglass-inspired double-bustier jacket to the Met Ball,” he said. “It wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Listen,” Leonard said, reflecting on the difficult balance between art and excess. “For all the excess, this is a fundraiser for the Costume Institute.” And he was said to be proud to have helped assemble the roster of filmmakers for the show, which includes not only gala hosts Ford and King, but also Wilde’s Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash and Chloé Zhao, last year’s Oscar winner. “They were the best group of filmmakers there was,” he said.
While many of those sipping cocktails and nibbling on coconut ceviche were gala veterans, from actors like gala stalwart Sarah Jessica Parker to designers like Thom Browne, there were plenty of newcomers. One was Kieran Culkin – the protagonist of another series about excessive wealth, “Succession” -, who claimed not yet to know what he thought of the gala, because he had only had time to do three things. “I tied my shoes,” he said. “I went to the men’s room and now I ordered a Coke, a straight Coke. They put a file on it. It’s not usually my thing. He went to see the exhibition.
For many first-time gala attendees, the most surreal part is seeing such a concentration of famous people from all walks of life, where someone more famous is always just around the corner. Or when, as happened on Monday night, a fun band starts winding its way through cocktails, with drums and a tuba and a guy conducting with a melodica, you take a closer look and the guy on the melodica is Jon Batiste, who He just won five Grammy Awards.
Another rookie, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, wasn’t even the only New York mayor in attendance: Michael Bloomberg was there, too.
Adams, who was wearing a tuxedo with the words “End Gun Violence” on the back and other symbols of the city he has led for several months, said he was thinking about the “very real” income inequality that stemmed from the Golden age. as the city now recovers from the pandemic.
Noting that the wealthiest two percent of the city was represented in the room, he said his role was to “come out among these New Yorkers and talk about the issues that the other 98% of New Yorkers need that are not in this room… . Not to divide us, but to unite us.”
Adams also joked about a tabloid report that he’s been dying to come to the gala for years.
“They’ve been trying to get ME to come for years,” he joked. “They wanted a mayor with arrogance.”
For more information on AP’s Met Gala coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/met-gala