The #MetGala is not the Met Ball

By Bill Colvard -

The first Monday in May was this week and we all know what that means. #MetGala.

Better than the the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Stanley Cup because there’s no tedious sporting event to get through and better than the Oscars, the Tonys or the Grammys because there’s not a bunch of even more tedious speeches to get through. It’s even better than brunch with Diane Keaton. OK, it’s not that good. Nothing could be that good.

But the #MetGala didn’t use to be the 800-pound gorilla of celebrity events. It wasn’t even called the #MetGala and it didn’t need a hashtag, even if we’d known what a hashtag was back then.

And if Pat Buckley knew that the party she spent decades shaping into “the” Christmas party to be seen at had evolved into a star-studded hootenanny complete with red carpet, paparazzi and multiple camera crews filming the arrival of guests, her tastefully coiffed head would be spinning in her WASPy grave.

It used to be the Met Ball and you didn’t have to be a celebrity to get in. All a young fashion student needed was a dinner suit and a hundred bucks to rub elbows with the cream of New York society. Mind you, you couldn’t eat dinner with them because that cost considerably more, but with some carefully planned grazing at a couple of cocktail parties before the Ball, the intrepid yet thrifty Met Baller could enjoy the social event of the season on an entry level salary that was within spitting distance of the minimum wage.

Those days are long gone. I mean really long gone. Back in the early ’80s, a Benjamin went a lot further than it does today and a celebrity and the barista who made that celebrity’s espresso at lunch might turn up at the same charity ball later in the evening. It happened from time to time.

No more. This year tickets cost $30,000 per and there’s a waiting list to be on the waiting list. But even if you are willing to drop an amount of cash sufficient to purchase a brand new, fully-equipped Fiat 124 Spider to buy a ticket to a party, you’ve got to get past the beady little eyes of Anna Wintour. The doyenne of Vogue approves, or does not approve, every guest. Even if you shell out $275,000 for a table, she gets to decide who can sit at that table. Personally, I believe every word of “The Devil Wears Prada.” She is power-mad. And apparently, quite adept at the art of fundraising.

Marcus Wainwright, a co-founder of Rag & Bone, seems to be a favorite of Wintour’s and he gets to go to the party a lot. He says of this new and not necessarily improved but definitely more profitable #MetGala, “It’s fun for meeting the five people you’ve always wanted to meet in your life. It gives you some sort of permission because you got in the front door.”

Of course back in the day, we fashion-school urchins with our dinner suits purchased from rummage sales in Park Avenue church basements did not have that sort of permission. As the high rollers came up from their posh dinner in the Temple of Dindur, we critiqued their ensembles among ourselves but rarely spoke to them. It would have been a buzzkill on both sides of the economic divide if they had been forced to acknowledge that one of us had foamed their cappuccino or pinned their hem earlier in the day.

As the US morphed into oligarchy and the Met Ball of my fond remembrance evolved into the “Oscars of the East Coast” or perhaps more importantly, “an ATM for the Met,” other things changed. It no longer opens the Christmas party season at the beginning of December but is held on the first Monday night in May. The Monday night time slot is a nice holdover from the old days. Most red carpet events are held on Sunday night to capture the maximum television audience but as no respectable member of New York society would be caught dead spending a weekend in town, they’ve stuck with Monday night. It’s nice when tradition wins out.

Despite all this moaning about the good old days, I still enjoy checking out photos online of what people are wearing. This year is only the second time they have done a one-person show honoring a living designer. The first was Yves Saint Laurent in 1983 and the crowd that night was a glittering parade of YSL’s greatest hits up until that moment.

This year’s honoree, Rei Kawakuba, designer of Comme de Garçons, promised quite a spectacle if a bunch of celebrities paraded up the Met steps dolled up in her creations. Kawakuba sometimes doesn’t feel the need for armholes in a top and might decide that a pair of pants can use a sleeve or three. That is to say, she is a stylist’s nightmare.

She is routinely included on lists of the 20th century’s most influential designers and yet, hardly anyone can figure out which end goes up on most of her garments. Much less tell the front from the back. She reduces every fashionista to a blubbering 3-year-old facing their first day of getting dressed without Garanimals.

So it wasn’t surprising that most of the celebs steered clear of sporting Comme de Garçons Monday night. A notable exception being Caroline Kennedy who wore, or perhaps a better word might be inhabited, a garment that could easily double as a rose garden, a pop-up tent or maybe even a tiny house.

I can’t say that before Monday night, she was ever on my list of the five people I’d most like to talk to, but on that night, in that dress, she would have been at the top of the list.

I’d probably open with “What were you thinking?” or “You never struck me as having a sense of humor.” Either way, probably a short conversation. Unless I offered to hold her drink while we discussed the drawbacks of a garment without armholes.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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