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The Met Gala 2021: everything you need to know

This year’s Met Gala in New York is on – and while the date may have changed, you can guarantee it will still be one of the biggest events in the annual fashion calendar. GRACE COOK gives the lowdown on everything you need to know

Fashion
Beyoncé wearing Givenchy at the 2013 Met Gala, celebrating the Costume Institute’s Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition

The date and theme for the 2021 Met Gala has just been announced

Due to the pandemic, we are no longer strangers to digital award ceremonies, and celebrities have risen to the challenge of getting red-carpet ready for an at-home event – just Google Rosamund Pike looking like candied confectionery in British designer Molly Goddard’s tulle tutu dress for the Golden Globes in March 2021. But the nature of the Met Gala is in its physical form, and now it’s been confirmed that this year’s event will take place on September 13 – as opposed to the traditional first Monday in May – it’s likely the ball will be one of the first red-carpet extravaganzas of the year. Get excited for a return to those Instagrammable behind-the-scenes moments and the true fashion spectacle to come.

The theme for the exhibition, which will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Costume Institute, is American fashion – to be explored in two instalments. On the choice of theme, Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of the Met, commented, “Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural shifts and a record of the forces, beliefs and events that shape our lives… In looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life.” It has also been reported, though is yet to be confirmed, that this year’s Gala will be hosted by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, alongside designer and CFDA chairman Tom Ford. Watch this space.

What is the Met Gala?

Usually held on the first Monday in May, the ball is an extravagant fundraiser for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute – an event that has become so renowned and captivating, there is even a behind-the-scenes documentary about it (The First Monday in May), which was released in 2016. Now in its 73rd year, the gala was first established in 1948 to commemorate the opening of the New York museum’s new Costume Institute; each year, the event has a theme linked to the annual blockbuster fashion exhibition, which is typically announced in March.

Hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art itself, the invite-only event draws one of the most star-studded red carpets of the seasonal calendar – so coveted are tickets, they draw a huge wait list, despite the $35,000 price tag. With attendees required to dress in line with the theme, each event is an opportunity for famous faces – and the designers who dress them – to make their mark on the red carpet; it’s also tradition that they attend together, as each other’s date. Previous themes have included everything from cubism (1998) and Catholicism (2018) to camp (2019) and punk (2013), for which Beyoncé wore a strapless Givenchy gown slashed to the thigh and covered in flames, while Sienna Miller shrugged a studded leather biker jacket over her white, floor-length gown. Punk indeed.

Notable looks of Met Galas past: Rihanna in 2018; Lupita Nyong’o in 2019; Awkwafina in 2019; Claudia Schiffer in 1998
Lady Gaga makes an entrance at the 2019 Met Gala celebrating the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition. (L-R) Gwen Stefani, Bella Hadid, Stella Maxwell, Jeremy Scott, Katy Perry, Maluma, Sarah Paulson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Denek Kania and Violet Chachki pose for a group shot in 2019

Who has ruled the red carpet in the past?

No other event holds quite the same theatrical draw as the Met Gala. Past years have seen stars embrace the theme so fully, it turns into a fancy-dress-type affair. In 2019, Katy Perry took the camp theme to the extreme when she dressed as a chandelier, while Lady Gaga, known for her red-carpet drama, swapped her sweeping magenta gown for sparkly fishnet tights and a ‘Haus of Gaga’ drinks trolley.

Slinky ‘naked dresses’ have been something of a Met Gala tradition ever since Cher donned one in 1974. The almost sheath-like nude gown, designed by Bob Mackie, was decorated in painterly sequins and feathers, simultaneously channeling the free-wheeling bohemia of the decade with the debauched elegance of the 1920s. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez and Emily Ratajkowski have all worn modern interpretations over the years.

And who could forget Rihanna’s 2015 canary-yellow gown by Chinese couturier Guo Pei, with its 16-foot train, that took two years and 50,000 hours of hand-embroidery to create?

Also going down in fashion history is Sarah Jessica Parker and the now-late Alexander McQueen, who donned matching tartans for the 2006 Anglomania exhibition, dedicated to all things British. With Parker wearing a one-shouldered sash and a tutu skirt and McQueen sporting a kilt and lace-up Brigadoon shoes, they looked like the chicest clan on the carpet.