The first Monday in May this year marks an absence from the fashion world. With the cancellation of the Met Gala and the indefinite closure of the Metropolitan Museum of Art due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum’s steps will remain silent, empty of the usual crowd of celebrities and fashion insiders who flock to the collection annual fundraising for the Institute costume.
The images of the galas of yesteryear are attractive because of their nostalgia factor and their retro style, but they also reveal a more relaxed atmosphere that is not limited to arrivals on the red carpet.
Photographer Rose Hartman, who photographed the gala for decades until the early 2000s, reminded the phone of a time when there was more freedom to move around and chat with attendees. In 1986, she photographed actress Lynda Carter and the socialite Blaine Trump laughing.
Hartman could sense the close friendship between Linda Carter and Blaine Trump as they shared a laugh, but also noted how glamorous they were doing it. Credit: Rose Hartman / Getty Images
“They were so happy to talk to each other rather than ask,” said Hartman. “I always try, as much as possible, to capture the people who are engaged with each other.”
Photographer Ron Galella, who has been photographing the gala since 1967, had a system in place to capture the best shots, from arrivals to the cloakroom upstairs and dining. “It was easy to shoot indoors,” he noted by email. “A New York Press card was all you needed to get in.” (When press passes finally became limited, there were years when it was smuggled through the entry of employees.)
Cher smokes a cigarette at the Met Gala “Romantic and Glamorous Exhibition of Hollywood Design” in 1974. Credit: Ron Galella / Getty Images
Over the decades, since the event’s first iteration in 1948, the gala has transformed from a chic party in off-site locations like Manhattan’s Rainbow Room into a fashion show. Socialites and artists have given way to prominent celebrities, who hit the headlines for how they choose to interpret or flout the theme of the night.
The change in guest list and atmosphere was largely due to a change in generational vision. In the 1970s, Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland positioned the gala as the opening night for the Institute’s major exhibitions and invited the crème de la crème from the world of fashion and new society. Yorker, but her successor, Anna Wintour, favored top musicians, actors and entertainment personalities, using $ 30,000 in tickets to the event to raise millions of dollars each year.
“I like that they walk rather than stand,” said Hartman. “I love the gesture of their movement.”
Galella captured this light moment from Iman, Paloma Picasso and Raphael Lopez Sanchez during the Met Gala 1983, which paid tribute to the work of Yves St. Laurent. Credit: Ron Galella / Getty Images
Models Kate Moss and Christy Turlington laughed at the Met Gala in 1995. Credit: Ron Galella / Getty Images
These days, the gala can take itself seriously with its neat image, but Galella thinks it’s a universal feeling to want to see the entertainment and fashion elite drop their guards. “We see them in the movies, we see them like superstars. But I want to see them like humans,” he told Forbes last year. “How beautiful are they when they don’t act?”