See How Tech and Fashion Mixed at the Met Gala

This year's Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit featured fashion and decor inspired by its tech company sponsors.

By Jim Shi May 10, 2016, 7:30 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/

Costume Institute Gala
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The numbers are staggering: One million flowers. Seventy-thousand square yards of carpet. Fifty-thousand work hours. And 610 dinner guests. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2016 Costume Institute benefit—which celebrated “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” and was sponsored by Apple—didn’t go the traditional route with iPads and Apple Watches. Instead, the relatively minimalist environs created by event producer Raul Avila proved to be both intellectually and aesthetically pleasing; decor was high-concept but pared-down and elegant, not unlike the dozens of iPhones used throughout the night to document the “party of the year.

The benefit, which raised about $13.5 million, was planned by Vogue’s director of special projects, Sylvana Ward Durrett. She worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s in-house staff, including Clyde Jones, senior vice president for institutional advancement; Kristin MacDonald, deputy chief development officer for events; and Bronwyn Keenan, deputy chief special events officer.

As with years past, the glittery intersection of A-list movie stars, music phenoms, art and fashion world titans, and society figures drew the likes of Beyoncé, Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook, Nicole Kidman, Tom Ford, and Madonna. As is tradition, the fashion stayed on theme; for example, Claire Danes’s super-structured Zac Posen dress boasted state-of-the-art LED lighting and fiber optics—its designer taking cues from technology in fashion, not unlike Isaac Singer’s 1851 sewing machine or today’s 3-D printing.

As guests arrived at the museum, they were greeted by a non-traditional sisal carpet that featured a hand-stenciled hot-pink-and-red DNA double helix, inspired by the exhibition’s case studies that decoded the handmade and machine-made in fashion. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we combine man-made and machine-made and make something beautiful?” said Avila, who has worked on the gala for 10 consecutive years.

In the Great Hall, what had been a one-dimensional double helix soared to three-dimensional grandiosity via a towering 65-foot-tall sculpture. One helix was fashioned from 400 yards of floral-print white lace placed on aluminum panels; the other comprised 200,000 roses, which were artificial to keep the helix under 1,500 pounds so it could be rigged entirely from the ceiling. 

“The helix was definitely challenging,” said Avila. “Despite working with engineers and architects, you really don’t know what problems you could run into until 6 p.m. on Sunday as it’s being built. Is it going to work or not?” Production for the gala started one week in advance, while breakdown started at midnight Tuesday morning and was completed two days later. Avila employed 300 staffers from start to finish. 

Guests moved through various areas of the museum during the event. After viewing the exhibit—Andrew Bolton’s first since being named curator in charge—guests entered the Petrie Court for cocktails. The area was lined with daybeds in blue and lavender.

Then, for dinner in the Temple of Dendur, a green-and-white theme meal was served. “We wanted a spring California menu in honor of Apple,” said Sean Driscoll, partner and co-owner of Glorious Foods, of the green asparagus, baby white asparagus, white sturgeon caviar, and mint sauce. Driscoll and a team of staffers, including his co-partner Jean-Claude Nédélec, even traveled to Apple's home of San Francisco to sample the city’s local cuisine and choose Napa Valley wines to serve. “We focused on healthy eating, farm-to-table ingredients … but not too literally,” added Driscoll, noting how the farm-to-table elements were a loose take on the “manus” component of the exhibit. As a further tongue-in-cheek nod to Apple, an apple green sorbet dessert came served in a frozen green apple shell.

Following the gala, where the Weeknd performed followed by DJ legend Grandmaster Flash, a bevy of after-parties took place throughout the city: Apple hosted the official after-party at Top of the Standard (also known as the Boom Boom Room) in the meatpacking district, while Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing held court at Gilded Lily and the Weeknd and Naomi Campbell commandeered Up & Down nightclub.

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