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Celebrities turn out for 2024 Met Gala

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The annual Met Gala was held last night in New York City. The invitation-only event is always held on the first Monday in May. And this year, a seat would set you back a whopping $75,000 to raise money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute - sure, but really, who are we kidding? - to display fabulousness. The complete guest list is kept under wraps until the night before the event and no phones are allowed inside. But if anybody can lift the veil it's Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times' fashion director and chief fashion critic. So we're hoping she can get us inside sort of. Welcome.

VANESSA FRIEDMAN: (Laughter) Thanks. Nice to be here.

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MARTIN: So let's start with the basics. How long has the Met Gala been around, who's the host and why does it get so much buzz?

FRIEDMAN: So it was actually started in 1948 by Eleanor Lambert, the publicist, with the expressed purpose of raising money for the Costume Institute, which is the only department in the Metropolitan Museum that actually has to pay for itself. It was a stand-alone museum, the Museum of Costume Arts, and when it merged with the Met that was the deal. So every year, the party essentially provides the funds for the operating budget for the Costume Institute for the year. That's a good cause.

MARTIN: OK, so why is it such a big deal, though?

FRIEDMAN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Because it is.

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FRIEDMAN: It's a big deal because it has become, I think, the ultimate snapshot of the people who are shaping culture every year, right? It's this crazy cocktail mix of celebrities from the world of Hollywood and music and sports and politics and business. And all of them dressed up almost like animals at the zoo, frankly...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

FRIEDMAN: ...For everyone else's enjoyment since social media got involved.

MARTIN: So there was always a theme. What was the theme this year and how did the attendees interpret it? And, you know, I'm putting that in air quotes - right? - because, you know, they basically do what they want. So what was interesting? If you weren't, like, watching this on TikTok or on your phone - and, like, we're going to pretend we weren't. But for those of us who - OK, I was watching it. Who am I kidding?

FRIEDMAN: (Laughter).

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MARTIN: But for people who weren't, what were some of the interesting outfits?

FRIEDMAN: The dress code was the Garden of Time, which is always connected to the theme of the actual exhibit, which this year is called "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" and has to do with the ephemerality of dress and nature and our senses. The way it was interpreted was big focus on the idea of garden, small focus on time, less focus on the fact that that phrase, the Garden of Time, is actually the title of a J.G. Ballard short story from 1962 about the death of the aristocracy.

MARTIN: Oh.

FRIEDMAN: Let's not go there.

MARTIN: OK (laughter) - awkward.

FRIEDMAN: I think, a lot flowers. A lot of flowers from head to toe, whether that was Gigi Hadid in this, like, extraordinary Thom Browne dress covered in tulips or Anna Wintour herself, the chair and mastermind of the gala, who was wearing a Loewe kind of frock coat that was likewise covered in flowers. But I have to say, the dress that really stuck out to me in terms of theme interpretation was a gown that Tyla wore created by Balmain made to mimic the sands of time. So literally covered in sand and shaped like an hourglass.

MARTIN: Wow. So briefly, you know, there have been controversies. One year, it was about whether Kim Kardashian should have worn Marilyn Monroe's dress, then there was the dress that AOC wore that said eat the rich - you know, irony there. Was there any this year?

FRIEDMAN: The controversies this year were really outside the gala. There were a lot of talk of protests, people coming over from Hunter College, down from uptown and marching for Gaza and Palestine. There were calls online for a primal scream, but none of it really happened.

MARTIN: OK, that is Vanessa Friedman. She's The New York Times' fashion director and chief fashion critic. Vanessa, thank you.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOYD CRAMER'S "LAST DATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: May 7, 2024 at 9:00 PM PDT
In this report, we incorrectly say a dress worn for a previous Met Gala by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez read, "eat the rich." In fact, the words on the dress were "tax the rich."