If the Oscars are considered the highlight of the social calendar on the West Coast, the Met Gala is the invitation to end all invitations on the East Coast. The yearly bash, the next of which takes place May 5, raises money for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (newly renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center), has been dubbed “The Party of the Year” and fashion’s Oscars, and draws a powerful cross-section of A-list celebs, sports stars, fashion designers, and philanthropists—a guest list curated under the watchful eye of Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
It’s an event so exclusive that even celebrities aren’t above campaigning for a spot—reportedly everyone from Kim Kardashian to Kate Upton to Lindsay Lohan have all resorted to this at some point. Those that do make the cut aren’t above boasting that they have, either. When actress Emmy Rossum received her invite to this year’s gala she posted a photo of it on Instagram along with the caption: “This invitation is worth its weight in gold.”
So how exactly does one gain entry to the gala? Vogue and a sponsor (this year it’s lifestyle brand Aerin run by longtime Met supporter Aerin Lauder) typically underwrite the party, which is rumored to cost upwards of two million dollars to produce.
Big brands like Ralph Lauren and Tod’s are invited to buy tables at the gala, and there are hard-to-come-by individual tickets for sale as well. Cost of entry to the event is high and rising, only adding to the exclusivity of the event.
In 2005, individual tickets ranged from $5,000 to $15,000, with entire tables costing $150,000. By 2010, that price had been raised to $250,000 for an entire table. This year individual tickets are reportedly $25,000, a move made by Wintour to weed out the riffraff. And while the guest list in past years was over 700 people, rumor has it that the list has been whittled down to around 350 for this year’s gala.
Just how powerful is the group that d0es make the cut? An up-and-coming designer attending for the second time this year told us: “If you aren’t Anne Hathaway, Katy Perry, or Madonna, it is pretty easy to be mistaken for a waiter—that’s how famous everyone is.”
Vogue reportedly compiles a celebrity wish list and then matches up stars with corporate table-buying guests or places them at their own sponsored tables. Celebrity attendees—this year that list includes Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, and Zoe Saldana, among others—in other words get a free ride to the event. Fashion designers are also invited to attend, including Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra, adding a cool factor to the guest list.
Model, fashion blogger, and all-around “It” girl Hanneli Mustaparta got entry as a guest of Calvin Klein, a fashion house that she regularly works with, beginning in 2010. She gushed: “I was so lucky that Calvin Klein invited me to join them … I was wearing a custom made dress by [CK designer] Francisco Costa. The process of designing the dress was incredible …Walking up the red carpet, I had to zigzag my way up between the photographers on each side … it was all a lot of fun.”
NJ Falk Goldston, a veteran of the gala, meanwhile, is invited to buy tickets as a donor of the Costume Institute.
“The event is formal and relaxed at the same time—it is one of those rare evenings where everyone at the party feels honored and privileged to be there and there’s a special energy,” she said. “Even though there are a ton of celebrities, everyone is pinching themselves, no matter who they are.” Founder of the site The Blonde & The Brunette, this year Goldston will also be covering the gala for The Hollywood Reporter and C magazine, along with attending.
Interestingly, the gala wasn’t always so exclusive. The party to end all parties originated in 1948 when the Costume Institute was founded. Eleanor Lambert, who founded the CFDA, originally ran the party and women paid $50 (around $500 in today’s dollars) to wear gowns from the Costume Institute’s archives at a midnight supper. Society figures like Diana Vreeland and Pat Buckley took turns co-chairing following Lambert’s departure. The gala got bigger over the years, but remained inclusive to a degree. In the 1980s, for instance, there was even an after-dinner ticket for $100. Wintour took over in 1995, and is credited with bringing Hollywood to the party, in order to rival Vanity Fair’s yearly Oscars party.
For those that do make the cut, scoring an invite is just the beginning. “Picking out a dress [for this] is the most stressful fashion decision, year after year,” according to Goldston. “It’s always down to the wire, and I’m still making up my mind.” Goldston is down to three options for this year’s gala, including a Giambattista Valli couture gown and a pale blue Carolina Herrera. In line with this year’s couturier Charles James theme, guests have been instructed via email for gentleman to wear white tie (meaning black tails and top hats), while women are expected to don Jamesian-style ball gowns.
Then there’s the matter of actually attending the party. “You have to receive your tickets in advance—they are mailed to you to present, no matter who you are—and your arrival time is pre-specified,” according to Goldston. “Celebrities have staged arrival times.”
After walking up a very long staircase (“it’s very tricky and there’s no handrail and you wearing a huge gown,” Goldston says) it’s on to greet the co-hosts (this year’s include Sarah Jessica Parker and Bradley Cooper), then it’s off to see the exhibition, followed by cocktails, then dinner, and last but not least music and dancing (Frank Ocean is performing this year). By the end of the night according to Goldston “people are dancing and stomping and having the best time.”
Naturally, the memories from attending can’t be beat. Last year’s gala was punk theme and according to Goldston, “People with spikes were dancing everywhere, and I was just trying to not get my eye poked out by leaning back. Jennifer Lopez who was standing near me, was doing the same thing.”
And while basically everyone who receives an invite to the Met Gala attends (because really, who would pass up the opportunity to dance the night away next to J-Lo), the exception is apparently Gwyneth Paltrow.
Last year after attending the gala she told Australian radio hosts Kyle and Jackie O: “You always think, ‘Oh my god, it’s gonna be so glamorous and amazing and you’re going to see all these people,’ and then you get there and it’s so hot and it’s so crowded and everyone’s pushing you.”
While she was extended an invite to this year’s ball, apparently Paltrow has kept to her word and declined to attend. Undoubtedly there is a long list ready and begging to take her spot.