Known as fashion’s biggest night, the Met Gala is returning to its usual spot – the first Monday in May – after two years of turmoil due to the pandemic. The event, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, coincides with the opening of Part Two of the exhibition In America: An Anthology of Fashion hosted by the Museum’s Costume Institute. Guests were required to wear “witch-gilded and white-tie,” a reference to the opulent, three-decade gilded era at the end of the 19th century that transformed American infrastructure and community life.
Pictures from last year’s parties are appealing due to the nostalgia factor and retro design, but they also reveal a more laid-back vibe that’s not limited to red carpet arrivals.
Photographer Rose Hartman, who photographed the party for decades until the early 2000s, recalled by phone a time when there was more freedom to move around and deal with. In 1986, actress Lynda Carter and social activist Blaine Trump were photographed laughing.
Hartmann was able to sense the close friendship between Linda Carter and Blaine Trump as they shared a laugh, but he also noted how glamorous they were while they did it. Credits: Rose Hartmann / Getty Images
“They were very happy talking to each other rather than pretending,” Hartmann told CNN in 2020. “I always try whenever possible to pick up people who relate to each other.”
Photographer Ron Galella, who has photographed the ceremony since 1967, had a system in place to capture the best shots, from arrivals at coat checks to the museum floor and dinner. He wrote via email in 2020: “It was easy to photograph inside. The New York Press Card is all you need to get in.” (When press passes finally became limited, there were years he smuggled them through employee entrance.)
Cher smokes a cigarette during the “Romantic and Gorgeous Hollywood Design Show” at the Met Gala in 1974. Credits: Ron Galella/Getty Images via Getty
Over the decades, since the event’s first iteration in 1948, the party has transformed from a luxurious party in off-site locations like the Rainbow Room in Manhattan into a fashion spectacle. Social figures and artists have spotlighted a list of A-list celebrities, who are making headlines about how they choose to interpret or mock the night’s topic.
The theme is based on the Fashion Institute’s new exhibition, such as this year’s two-part show honoring American designers. Other topics included “Camp: Notes on Fashion” for 2019 and “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” for 2018.
The change in guest list and atmosphere was largely due to a generational change of vision. In the 1970s, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland positioned the ceremony as the opening ceremony of the institute’s main exhibitions and invited crema de la crème to the fashion world and New York society, but her successor, Anna Wintour, favored prominent musicians, actors and entertainment figures, using $30,000 tickets. For the event to raise millions of dollars each year.
“I like the fact that they walk rather than stand,” Hartmann said. “I love their movement gesture.”
Galella captured this light moment of faith, Paloma Picasso and Rafael Lopez Sanchez at the 1983 Met Gala, which honored the work of Yves St. Laurent. Credits: Ron Galella / Getty Images
Galella’s extensive archive of Met Gala photos, which he published in a book in 2019, shows the adorable gestures among celebrities when they least expect a camera flash. In 1983, he photographed model Iman and designer Paloma Picasso laughing as Picasso’s husband leaned down to embrace a statue of Iman by her waist. In 1995, Christy Turlington apparently caught teasing Kate Moss, slipping his finger in the dangerously low back of Moss’ white dress.
Models Kate Moss and Christy Turlington at the 1995 Met Gala. Credits: Ron Galella / Getty Images