(CNN) — The Met Gala, known as the most important night in fashion, returns to its typical programming, the first Monday in May, after two years of interruptions due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The event, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, coincides with the opening of the second part of the exhibition, “United States: An Anthology of Fashion”, organized by the museum’s Costume Institute. Guests were asked to dress in the “Gilded Glamor and White Tie” dress code, referring to the lavish Gilded Age, a three-decade period in the late 19th century that transformed American infrastructure and social life.
But the documentation of the glitzy gala has changed in recent years, as photographers have largely confined themselves to photographing the highly posed entrances of attendees; and the images that come from the tightly controlled press area are polished and repetitive. To see celebrities letting loose (as did Bella Hadid and Marc Jacobs meeting in the bathroom to smoke, for example), you would have to resort to post-party photos or their Instagram feeds.
Images of galas of yesteryear appeal with their nostalgia factor and retro flair, but also reveal a more laid-back vibe that isn’t limited to red carpet arrivals.
Photographer Rose Hartman, who photographed the gala for decades until the early 2000s, recalled by phone a time when there was more freedom to move and interact with attendees. In 1986, she photographed actress Lynda Carter and socialite Blaine Trump as they laughed.
“They were so happy talking to each other instead of posing,” Hartman told CNN in 2020. “Whenever possible, I try to capture people who are entertaining each other.”
Photographer Ron Galella, who has photographed the gala since 1967, had a system for capturing the best shots, from arrival at the cloakroom to the museum floor to dinner. “It was easy to take photos inside,” he wrote by email in 2020. “All I needed to get in was a New York Press card.” (When press passes eventually became limited, there were years when it was smuggled in through the employee entrance.)
Over the decades, since the event’s first iteration in 1948, the gala has transformed from an elegant party at outside venues like Manhattan’s Rainbow Room to a fashion extravaganza. Socialites and entertainers have ceded the limelight to A-list celebrities, who make headlines for how they choose to perform or poke fun at the theme of the night.
The dress code at the 2022 Met Gala
This year’s theme is based on the new Costume Institute exhibit, such as this year’s two-part show honoring American designers. Other tracks have included 2019’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” and 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”
The change in the guest list and atmosphere was largely due to a generational change in vision. In the 1970s, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland positioned the gala as the inaugural evening of the Institute’s premier exhibits and invited the crème de la crème of the New York fashion world and society, but her successor Anna Wintour has favored high-profile musicians, actors and entertainment figures, using $30,000 tickets to the event to raise millions of dollars each year.
In 1999, Wintour’s first year as event chairperson, Hartman took a photograph of the Vogue editor-in-chief walking with former managing editor André Leon Talley, who passed away earlier this year. Their image is light-hearted, with both editors resplendent in their costumes and caught up in the motion.
“I love the fact that they walk instead of stand,” Hartman said. “I love the gesture of his movement.”
Galella’s vast archive of Met Gala images, which she published in a book in 2019, also shows the affectionate gestures between celebrities when they don’t anticipate the flash of a camera. In 1983, she photographed supermodel Iman and designer Paloma Picasso laughing as Picasso’s husband leaned over to hug statuesque Iman around her waist. In 1995, she caught Christy Turlington apparently making fun of Kate Moss, slipping a finger down the dangerously low-cut back of Moss’s white dress.
These days, the gala may take itself seriously with its polished image, but Galella believes it’s a universal sentiment to want to see the entertainment and fashion elite let their guard down.
“We see them in movies, we see them as superstars. But I want to see them as humans,” he previously told Forbes. “How beautiful are they when they’re not acting?”
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These Rarely Seen Photos From The Met Gala Show Celebrities Letting It Go And Not Posing
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