Costume Institute Gala Nods to McQueen's Scottish Heritage, Raises Record $10.4 Million

By Jim Shi May 4, 2011, 4:34 PM EDT

Photo: Billy Farrell/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala
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Just three days after Kate Middleton married Prince William in an Alexander McQueen gown, the late designer was again in the public eye as the subject of Monday night's Costume Institute gala. Celebrating the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibit, some 800 A-list guests attended the prominent event, including McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, honorary chairs François-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek, Vogue editor in chief and benefit co-chair Anna Wintour, and fellow co-chairs Colin Firth and Stella McCartney.

Putting on what has been called the “party of the year” is no small task, but producers of this year’s benefit were able to take their cues directly from the much-lauded Brit—who passed away in February last year—and, in doing so, raise more than $10 million, a new record.

“His work fits so easily within the discourse of art,” said Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute, noting the retrospective paralleled the aesthetic of its subject more closely than any recent gala—necessitating little, if any, reinterpreting. Indeed, McQueen was well known for extravagant and dramatic runways and for designing entire collections around how they would be presented. “This evening and this exhibit are really a high point for the Costume Institute.”

Vogue special event director Sylvana Ward Durrett oversaw the planning of the gala, working with the museum's in-house staff, including vice president of development and membership Nina Diefenbach, deputy chief development officer for events Kristin MacDonald, and deputy chief special event officer Ashley Potter Bruynes. The design for the evening, chiefly sponsored by the designer's fashion house, Condé Nast, and American Express, was created by Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, the production designers of the McQueen's fashion shows, alongside Raúl Àvila.

“We wanted to incorporate a combination of an enchanted garden and elements of McQueen’s shows that were a little dark and a little mysterious,” Àvila said. This was his sixth Costume Institute gala. “Anna wanted it to be happy, celebrating someone who was so amazing in what he did. We celebrated his life.”

This translated into a number of elements, including a striking, 30-foot-tall British oak tree, which towered over guests in the center of the museum's great hall. Lush arrangements of lavender, heather, and English roses with ivy cascading over the walls embellished the grand staircase leading to the exhibit, while the Temple of Dendur was transformed into a moonlit English garden for the dinner. Two 10-foot-tall bird-shaped topiaries sat atop hedges that surrounded the garden space, an addition made just the day before.

The Scottish-inspired cuisine included an appetizer of artichokes and poached quail egg, American caviar, and lemon mousseline; an entrée of Highland beef with horseradish sauce, baby spring vegetables, and truffled potato tart; and assorted miniature desserts and chocolate-dipped strawberries. After a short program during dinner—with remarks from the museum’s director Thomas P. Campbell, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Firth, and McCartney—Florence Welch of band Florence and the Machine performed a three-song set. Her final song, a rendition of David Bowie's “Rebel Rebel,” was dedicated to McQueen.

To allow those not in attendance to view the impressive event and get some behind-the-scenes details, Vogue introduced a special iPad app this year. The 99-cent mobile application was designed to add another dimension to coverage by including a rich historical perspective of past galas and more video coverage, Vogue senior editor Chris Knutsen said. “Although Vogue has not released a digital version of the monthly print magazine, we want to offer our readers exclusive content that builds on the magazine’s strengths—superb design and photography, and unique access to celebrity culture—in a more targeted way,” he said. “The idea is to deliver a digital experience that is highly focused, while taking full advantage of the creative design environment of the iPad.” A Vogue spokesperson confirmed that the download fee does not benefit the Costume Institute.

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