NEW YORK – It started in 1948 as a society midnight supper, and it wasn’t even at the Met.
Fast forward 70-plus years, and the Met Gala is something totally different, one of the most photographed events in the world for its head-spinning red carpet — though the famous carpeted steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art aren’t always red. We’re talking Rihanna as a bejeweled pope. Zendaya as Cinderella with a light-up gown. Katy Perry as a chandelier morphing into a hamburger. Also: Beyoncé in her “naked dress.” Kim Kardashian in a face-covering bodysuit. Billy Porter as an Egyptian sun god, carried on a litter by six shirtless men. And Lady Gaga’s 16-minute striptease.
Not to forget, the Met Gala is still a fundraiser — last year the evening earned more than a whopping $16.4 million for the Met’s Costume Institute. Let’s also not forget that it launches the annual spring fashion exhibit that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum.
But it’s the carpet itself (now watchable for everyone, on livestream) that draws the world’s eyes, with the guest list strategically withheld until the last minute — a collection of stars from movies, music, fashion, sports, politics and elsewhere that probably makes for the highest celebrity wattage-per square foot of any party in the world.
Herewith, a primer for the 2022 Met gala, which is on May 2:
Yes, we just did this in the fall. The annual fundraiser for the Met’s Costume Institute is traditionally held the first Monday in May, but because of the pandemic, a postponed gala was held in September.
WHO’S HOSTING THE 2022 MET GALA?
This year’s hosts are Regina King, power couple Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Of course, Vogue’s Anna Wintour is supervising the whole shebang as she has since the ’90s. Her fellow honorary co-chairs are designer Tom Ford and Instagram head Adam Mosseri. Ford, also a film director, is one of nine directors whose work is featured in the new spring exhibit.
IS THERE A THEME?
Of course. The Met Gala theme for this year is “Gilded glamour, white-tie,” guests have been told.
As usual, the sartorial theme comes from the exhibit the gala launches: “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” which is the second installment of star curator Andrew Bolton’s two-part show exploring the roots of American style.
This exhibit showcases overlooked figures in fashion history, many of them women and people of color, through the talents of some top film directors, including Sofia Coppola, Martin Scorsese, host King, and last year’s Oscar winner Chloé Zhao. Their work will be displayed in the period rooms of the American Wing, so expect some grand fashion related to the theme — like those gowns from HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” Artfully ripped jeans, this time? Not so much.
DOES EVERYONE FOLLOW THE THEME?
Not really. Some eschew it and just go for big and crazy. But expect some guests to have carefully researched the theme and to come in perfect sync with the exhibit. It was hard to beat the carpet, for example, when the theme was “Catholic imagination” and Rihanna came as the pope, Zendaya channeled Joan of Arc, and Perry navigated the crowd with a set of enormous angel wings.
HOW MUCH DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR A MET GALA TICKET?
Wrong question. You cannot just “buy” a ticket. The right question is, IF I were famous or powerful and got invited, how much would it cost?
IF I WERE FAMOUS AND POWERFUL AND GOT INVITED, HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?
Well, you might not pay yourself. Generally companies buy tables. A fashion label — Michael Kors, for example — would then host its desired celebrities, or fashion muses. But each paid seat reportedly costs around $35,000, though some guests are invited for free.
SO WHO GETS INVITED TO THE MET GALA?
This year, there will be 400 guests — similar to the September gala, and lower than pre-pandemic highs of 500-600. Trying to predict? Take out your pen and jot down some of your favorite names, the buzzier the better.
Newly minted Oscar or Grammy winners, for example, are a good bet — or perennial fashion favorites like former host Timotheé Chalamet, who wore white Converse shoes last year. Do the same with pop music, sports, politics, fashion of course … and Broadway, a special favorite of Wintour’s (and remember, Miranda's a host this year). Now, cross everyone off your list except the very top.
At the Met Gala, everybody’s A-list.
THAT MUST BE AN EXAGGERATION.
Not really. Ask Tina Fey. She went in 2010 and later described walking around trying to find somebody “normal,” e.g. not too famous, to sit and talk with. That ended up being Barbara Walters.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED IN THE MET GALA?
Well, these days you can watch the whole carpet unfold on livestream. And really, the carpet is the party. (Ask Gaga!)
If you're in New York City you can also join fans across the street from the museum on Fifth Avenue, and even further away on Madison Avenue, pressed up against police barricades. You might get lucky: Last year, Chalamet ran over to greet his admirers.
DO WE KNOW WHO'S COMING? AND WHO ISN'T?
Like we said, it’s secret. But reports slip out, often about who is not coming. Fashion favorite Zendaya has confirmed she has other plans. And Rihanna is about to give birth, so we’d assume she’ll skip, but then again, she’s Rihanna so let’s not assume anything. A fair assumption would be a heavy Kardashian presence. New York's mayor, Eric Adams, will be attending — very happily, according to the New York Post. Also happily, Perry has said she's going, and indicated her hamburger-chandelier days may be receding in favor of more traditional garb.
Another thing remains true: Nobody can come who isn't vaccinated. In addition to vaccine proof, guests had to take a PCR test. Masks are not likely to make much of an appearance since people will be eating and drinking the whole night.
WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE THE MET GALA?
Entering the museum, guests walk past an impossibly enormous flower arrangement in the lobby (one was over 250,000 white roses) and over to cocktails. Or, they head to view the exhibit. Two changes this year, per the museum: The dramatic lobby centerpiece will remain up for regular visitors to see for a few days. And cocktails will take place in the American Wing, making it very easy for guests to slip in and out of the exhibit.
Around 8 p.m., they’re summoned to dinner — perhaps by a team of buglers (“Are they going to do that between every course?” actor Gary Oldman asked aloud one year.) We can’t personally describe anything beyond that, either dinner or the musical performance, but you can find clips of Rihanna singing on the table tops in the documentary “The First Monday in May,” and it looks fun.
IS IT FUN FOR EVERYONE?
Occasionally, someone says no. Fey, in a comic rant to David Letterman in 2015, described the gala as a “jerk parade” and said it included everyone you’d ever want to punch, if you had millions of arms.
Amy Schumer said she felt awkward and left “earlier than should be allowed.” But most profess to having fun.
Then there was Joan Collins, who arrived channeling her imperious “Dynasty” character, Alexis, in 2018, ready to have a blast, but seeking liquid sustenance. “I’m having a great time,” she told The Associated Press. “I’d be even better if I had a drink.”