Pomp and circumstance have long been the Costume Institute gala’s calling card, but on Monday night the black-tie affair took a decidedly cerebral turn, as it marked the opening of the exhibit, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” Chiefly sponsored by online retailer Amazon, the sold-out dinner drew more than 800 A-list guests and raised more than $11.5 million—a new record for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Vogue special events director Sylvana Ward Durrett and senior West Coast editor Lisa Love oversaw the planning of the event, also known as the Met Ball, working with the museum’s in-house staff, including vice president for development and membership Nina Diefenbach, deputy chief development officer for events Kristin MacDonald, and deputy chief special events officer Ashley Potter Bruynes. Film director, screenwriter, and producer Baz Luhrmann served as the exhibition’s creative consultant, while Nathan Crowley acted as chief production designer and Raúl Àvila oversaw decor.
As guests entered the museum through the Great Hall, they met a 24-foot-tall cylinder covered in 40,000 roses—only one-fifth of the total number of roses at the gala—with a large-scale lip pattern inspired by Schiaparelli and Prada designs. The processional was hosted by Amazon founder and C.E.O. Jeff Bezos, alongside co-chairs Carey Mulligan, Miuccia Prada, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Guests—including Beyoncé, Cameron Diaz, Tim Tebow, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Linda Evangelista—did not ascend the museum’s grand staircase as in years past, but rather moved to the special galleries on the first floor, where organizers had chosen to house the exhibition.
This year’s exhibit leans heavily on a series of eight short videos created by Luhrmann. In these, Prada speaks with Elsa Schiaparelli, played by actress Judy Davis, in a dialogue created using paraphrased excerpts from Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life. The videos, which give the viewer the feeling of eavesdropping in on a chat, animate the entry gallery and seven themed sections of the exhibition, serving as the thread connecting the objects.
As straightforward as the exhibit appears, its simplicity is deceivingly complicated, said Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute. “We asked Nathan [Crowley] to think about something abstract that didn’t come with any real reference,” said Koda. “He came up with the idea of these glass boxes in an infinite environment where it would seem like you have these pods that come from the future, so that something from the 1930s and something from the 2010s would have been transported. We wanted something to be a brain teaser to make you think about fashion.”
The resulting three-quarter-inch plexiglass boxes in the final phase of the exhibit, coupled with an entirely mirrored venue, give it a very clean, almost sterile, aesthetic. “This way, the objects have a very crisp outlook,” said Koda. “So even if something is period, by putting it against something with a high gloss and lots of ambient lighting, it has a freshness and vividness to it.” Surprisingly, Koda conceded that this year’s exhibit was more difficult to stage than last year’s tribute to Alexander McQueen. “It’s because of the handling of the plexiglass, the decisions on how to hide the things that needed to be rigid, the mitering of the surfaces, and how you resolve the edges,” he explained. “Simple turned out to be more difficult.”
Following an inaugural viewing and cocktails in the Carroll and Milton Petrie Sculpture Court, guests enjoyed a classic Italian dinner catered by Glorious Food in the Temple of Dendur. The decor was whimsical, albeit slightly more pared-down, a look inspired by the surrealism movement. Highlights included two 30-foot-long lobsters covered in red roses and a 40- by 80-foot projection of Man Ray’s photograph, ”À L’Heure de l’Observatoire, Les Amoreux,” featuring monumental floating lips in a cloud-dotted sky, along the far wall. A performance by Bruno Mars followed.
A new component this year was the live-streaming of the red carpet arrivals on the Web sites of Vogue, Amazon, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Amazon is increasingly involved in the fashion world and is a company that strongly believes in the power of unconventional thinking,” said Bezos. “As a sponsor, along with Condé Nast, we couldn’t be happier to be part of an exhibition that brings fashion history into the present in such a three-dimensional way.”