Ah, the first Monday in May! To some, it’s an average Monday. Maybe, you’ll go to work tired from the weekend, maybe you’ll make pizza for dinner. But for fashion and PR professionals, eyes are glued to a screen (if you’re not blessed enough to be there yourself). While the Met Gala seems like a night of glitz and glamour for the rich and famous, is it really the greatest PR stunt of all time?
The Met Gala was started by the very woman who began the fashion public relations field: Eleanor Lambert. The first Met Gala wasn’t a Met Gala at all, but a Costume Institute benefit. The Met refused to create a historical costume exhibit unless it was already funded, so Lambert created a midnight fundraising supper in 1948 that has grown into what we know today. In 1995, Anna Wintour, the iconic Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, took over the event, and it was moved to the first Monday of May. Wintour is also the creative mind behind each year’s elaborate theme that dictates the attendees' dress and decor. Past themes include Punk: Chaos to Couture in 2013 and Fashion in an Age of Technology in 2016. Guests step up to the challenge each time.
The Stunt of it All
Every year since Anna Wintour took over, the guest list proves to be a reflection of the boundary-pushing fashion and cultural icons present in Vogue. According to the Business of Fashion, the Met Gala has successfully secured its place as a top-tier placement for fashion businesses to promote their products and messaging. As a high-performance PR event, it’s home to many fashion -- and political -- statements each year, and it’s become a great place to start a cultural conversation. Trends in the weeks following the event are heavily impacted by the PR work done at this event. This year, a record-breaking 15 million people tuned into the live stream on Vogue.com, and the event garnered over 192 million views across platforms.
This Year’s Stunt(s)
This year, due to COVID, the Met Gala fell on Monday, September 13th (but it will be back to May in 2022). The theme was In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, and sparked many interpretations to the question “What is American?”. Most looks on the red carpet grabbed attention and many garments embedded stories to be told. After the past year our country had, the Met also found itself host to many of the social conversations of modern America as well. Each of the following is an example of garments and people that sparked a conversation at the event. Let’s dive into the public relations hard at work at 2021’s Met Gala:
Influence-Who?: Dixie D’amelio and Addison Rae
To start, a conversation about elitism erupted this year after the Met. Social media influencers, including Dixie D’amelio and Addison Rae, were granted one of Anna Wintour’s famously hard-to-get invitations. These women boast millions of followers across social media platforms, but many fashion enthusiasts weren’t so sure that this qualified them for a ticket to the Met Gala. One fan even took to Twitter, claiming that Wintour had run out of celebrities to invite and celebrity culture is “going down the drain.” There were arguments made about the need for higher status requirements for Met Gala attendees, almost a cry for elitism.
However, others online jumped to defend the social media stars, stating that their invitations only solidified their status as fashion icons in the modern digital culture. Social media’s influence is clear when you see influencers invited to elite events. In fact, Instagram was the sponsor for the Gala this year, further defining the platform’s impact.
Where do you stand on this conversation: are social media stars just as elite as the Met Gala requires?
AOC: “Tax the Rich”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the ever-present congresswoman known as AOC, showed up to the event in a white Brother Vellies gown. From the front, she wore a simple white dress, but when she turned around, the back read “Tax the Rich.” This was written in bold red lettering, and successfully gathered the free press it was intended to. In fact, Google searches for “tax the rich” were boosted for days following the event.
However, not all press is good press, and AOC faced backlash as many realized the irony, or as some called it “hypocrisy,” behind her chosen setting for the statement. Each ticket at the Met can go for around $35,000 (although her fee was waived), and her dress was very high-valued, created by designer Aurora James. Many said this was an example of her enjoying the elite treatment while making an empty statement against it, while others claimed it was a bold way to bring the message to the very people it was meant for.
No matter the side of the aisle you stand on with this issue, no one can argue with the stunt’s success at creating conversation.
Cara Delevigne: Pegging the Patriarchy
Delevigne had a similar statement to make with her chosen garments. Her vest read “Peg the Patriarchy,” raising her own statement for strong feminism. When asked about the phrase Cara advised everyone to “google it.” Well, Glamour googled it, and here’s the meaning: “Luna Matatas coined Peg the Patriarchy in 2015 to get provocative about subverting the system of patriarchy. Patriarchy has no gender, working to dismantle it benefits us all.” However, without giving credit to the original artist, Luna Matatas, Cara has found herself the point of some criticism as well. Give credit where credit is due, ladies.
Despite Cara’s credited fumble, “peg the patriarchy” became quite the popular search, and thanks to intentional editors, Matatas’ message was still a headliner following the event.
Throughout recent history, the Met Gala has been home to our society’s elite. Now, it’s more than just fashion speaking. The Met has also become home to some of society’s most successful PR statements and conversation starters. With such high viewership, it’s definitely a great opportunity to get a message out, as a fashion brand or otherwise, as we’ve seen this year.
As a fashion follower, I love the uninhibited nature the fashion industry has always achieved. However, as global culture becomes more outspoken, the shift from uninhibited design to uninhibited opinions has been eye-opening. Finally, fashion is about more than design; it can be a cultural statement. The intentionality that goes into each of these events is like a delicate balance between the artistry of fashion and the technique of public relations. As a future fashion PR professional, I’m excited for the transparency that fashion brands show when these two industries unite.
Mackenzi Abbott is a senior at Texas Christian University studying Strategic Communication and Fashion Merchandising. She is the Director of Public Relations for Roxo and loves to exercise her storytelling skills through writing. Mackenzi is also a public relations and social media manager for the Be Fearless You Foundation in Dallas. When not in class or at work, Mackenzi is probably exploring new fashion or media trends via TikTok, Vogue, and more (like shopping… too much shopping!).
Find her on LinkedIn.