As the Met Gala 2019 approaches, we look back at some of the best themes ever from the history of the Met Gala, from Heavenly Bodies to Punk: Chaos to Couture and Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty.
A draw for lovers of fashion, art, culture and more, the Met Gala is one of the most exciting events in the social calendar. Each gala raises money for The Costume Institute, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and launches that year’s exhibition at the institute.
Guests are encouraged to use that year’s exhibition as the inspiration for their outfits, and the result is some of the best, or at least most interesting, looks of the year.
Here, Stylist looks back at this decade’s themes, exhibitions and outfit highlights from each year.
2018 — Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
The 2018 exhibition was a “dialogue between fashion and medieval art” and examined “fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism”.
The exhibition included papal robes and accessories from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, as well as fashions from the early 20th century to the present.
Co-chairing the 2018 Met Gala were Rihanna, Amal Clooney and Donatella Versace. Rihanna’s outfit was the undoubted highlight of the evening. Her custom Maison Margiela by John Galliano outfit consisted of a heavily beaded and stoned dress, papal robes and papal tiara.
But this was a strong Met Ball, with celebrities taking the theme seriously and serving serious looks. Notable outfits included Zendaya’s Joan of Arc Versace gown, which included shoulder and neck plates, Blake Lively’s ornate Versace gown, and Lena Waithe’s Rainbow Pride Flag cape, by Caroline Herrera.
2017 — Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between
Fashion designer Rei Kawakubo is known for her avant-garde designs and “ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability”. The Costume Institute’s exhibition featured around 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection.
The 2017 gala produced a number of excellent fashion moments. Once again, Rihanna (who consistently takes the gala’s themes seriously) was among the best dressed, in a floral Comme des Garçons dress with custom-made DSQUARED2 lace-up sandals. Cara Delevingne opted for a space-age silver and black Chanel suit paired with pointed silver heels. She sported silver hair, studded with diamonte which continued onto her face, and plenty of silver body glitter. And Perry wore a red custom Maison Margiela gown by John Galliano, complete with a veil.
2016 — Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology
Manus x Machina explored how “fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear”. The exhibition included a series of case studies where haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles were “decoded to reveal their hand/machine DNA”. Among the outfits was a 2014 haute couture wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, which had a 20ft train. The details of the train’s embroidery were projected onto the domed ceiling of the cocoon the dress was displayed in.
The 2016 co-chairs of the Met Gala were Taylor Swift, Idris Elba and Jonathan Ive.
Swift wore a short, tiered Louis Vuitton dress in black and a silver, a colour scheme adopted by many of the attendees. Lady Gaga, who is a co-chair of the 2019 Met Gala, wore Atelier Versace, donning a chunky jacket, basque and bra with some truly vertiginous platform heels, while Nicole Kidman opted for a full length cut-out Alexander McQueen gown with squirrels of sparkling detail.
2015 — China: Through the Looking Glass
The 2015 Met Gala was the subject of the documentary The First Monday in May, in which we got a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the long process of creating the exhibition and organising the gala.
China: Through the Looking Glass explored “the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries”, and was a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art.
The gala was co-chaired by actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Gong Li, then boss of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer, and entrepreneur Wendi Deng.
The 2015 event was the year Beyonce wore a see-through sequinned Givency gown, Rihanna went for a giant yellow fur cape by Chinese designer Guo Pei and Solange wore a reflective Giles dress.
2014 — Charles James: Beyond Fashion
Charles James: Beyond Fashion was the inaugural exhibit in the newly renovated Costume Institute, and examined the career of Anglo-American couturier James. The exhibition contained 65 of James’ most notable designs, dating from the 1920s through to his death in 1978.
The year’s co-chairs were Aerin Lauder, Bradley Cooper, Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker, and philanthropists Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch.
Parker wore a voluminous black and white Oscar de la Renta gown, which was inspired by a dress form, while Lupita Nyong’o stunned in a green and brown Prada ensemble with feather fringing.
2013 — Punk: Chaos to Couture
The 2013 exhibition looked at “punk’s impact on high fashion”, from the birth of the movement in the Seventies through to its influence today. On show were original punk garments and “recent, directional fashion to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to-wear borrow punk’s visual symbols”.
The co-chairs for Punk: Chaos to Couture were Rooney Mara, Lauren Santo Domingo and Riccardo Tisci.
Mara paired a delicate white gown with frills with sleek hair and dark lipstick, and there were plenty of black dresses on the carpet. But there were some guests who went more overtly punk, revelling in the theme.
Miley Cyrus opted for spiked hair with a mesh Marc Jacobs’ dress, Sarah Jessica Parker paired her dress with tartan boots and a Phillip Treacy headdress, and Anne Hathaway went for platinum hair and a sheer Valentino dress.
2012 — Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations
This exhibit explored the “striking affinities” between two Italian designers from different eras — Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.
Clothing was shown alongside videos of simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada directed by Baz Luhrmann, “focusing on how both women explore similar themes in their work through very different approaches”.
Carey Mulligan and Miuccia Prada were co-chairs of the Met Gala. Mulligan wore a short gold and silver Prada dress, with Gwyneth Paltrow also going short and Prada in a blue satin gown with sequin details on the back.
Kristen Stewart opted for colour blocking with an outfit from Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière.
2011 — Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is one of the most famous exhibitions and Met Galas of recent times.
The Costume Institute described McQueen as “arguably the most influential, imaginative, and provocative designer of his generation”. The exhibition, which also showed at London’s V&A Museum, celebrated the “astounding creativity and originality of a designer who relentlessly questioned and confronted the requisites of fashion”.
Stella McCartney and Colin Firth co-chaired the Met Gala in 2011, and some of the most interesting looks of the night were designed by McQueen or McCartney.
Socialite and fashion designer Daphne Guinness wore a feathered McQueen gown, while Maggie Gyllenhaal stunned in a sequinned blue gown by McCartney.
2010 — American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity
The first Costume Institute exhibition of this decade explored the developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940, and how this has shaped the way American women are seen today.
The 2010 gala was co-chaired by Oprah Winfrey and Patrick Robinson, then at Gap.
Katy Perry’s outfit was one of the most eye-catching of the night — from a shop called Cute Circuit, it came complete with flashing lights. Carey Mulligan’s was eye-catching for different reasons — her short lavender Miu Miu dress came with pockets, every woman’s dream.
Images: Getty, Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images, Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images