Every year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a gala fundraiser for its Costume Institute with the fashion party of the year. Industry elite are invited to attend; in recent years, celebrity guests have increasingly joined them. It’s made the carpet a little more populist, for versions of “populist” that let the public gather behind barriers across the avenue to guess who’s in the giant silver ballgown. The evening is a crowning glory of the fashion world, the jewel of the Met crown—and an achievement for the Hollywood set who get invited. Being on the red carpet at the Met Gala is a power move. And Anna Wintour personally decides who goes, and when they’re allowed to arrive.
That seems vaguely ludicrous. But this party is a high-stakes event, and there’s a palpable hierarchy that’s understood—and being constantly negotiated—by everyone on the inside. Anna Wintour is just a visible figurehead of a process that’s usually refracted across dozens of event runners and publicists. The Best Actress ringers don’t show up in the opening hour of the Oscars carpet; the Hollywood inner circle shows up at the Met Gala after the models are gone. We’ve seen the patterns play out to the point we understand the rhythms. Show up too early and everyone knows you’re the opening act: your photos get buried in real-time slideshows. Show up later, and the burden’s on you to interpret the theme better than everyone around you—while hitting a red carpet grace note that has that Met edge. (The year the Met did its China Through the Looking Glass exhibit, Rihanna showed up in an embroidered Guo Pei coat it took three people to carry.)