Everyone seems to agree: The Met Gala is something special. It's exclusive, it's glamorous, it's highly publicized. It's star-studded, it's high-fashion. Whether people follow the theme or not, the whole evening is centered on fashion — the fashion being showcased inside the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the fashion specifically created to peacock up and down its storied steps.
For a fashion designer to be there, it's a very, very big deal. Especially for the first time.
"Nobody will ever take that away from you," says Fernando García, co-founder and co-creative director of Monse who first attended in 2016 with Sarah Jessica Parker and Laura Kim for the then-barely-year-old label. "It felt like somebody who knew our work from before was giving us a stepping stone, so we just tried to have as much fun as possible."
The designer has since been photographed on the Met steps many times — attending the event on behalf of Monse, as well as of Oscar de la Renta, with Kim. And he says it's a night unlike any other: "The Met Gala is where designers are allowed to be the most themselves, where designers are allowed to showcase who they are as designers, period. You're allowed to be the most obnoxious [designer] you can be because it's a night of celebrating the craft that you do. I look forward to it so much because I get to see all my peers' best work. All my friends that I adore are around me that night and they're all nervous and excited and as proud as me."
Prabal Gurung — a designer who's had a presence at pretty much every red carpet on the awards-season calendar — agrees that the way the Met Gala centers designers makes it a unique platform for creatives. "This is one night where fashion is at the forefront. We're driving and leading it," he explains. "All the celebrities, everyone you meet, they're so excited to be there and meet the designers. For me, it's one night that is so joyous, optimistic, fun — everything that you think fashion is supposed to be when you're not in the industry. It's the epitome of glamour."
Stuart Vevers, creative director of Coach
"I remember clearly the first time I was invited to the Met Gala. It was during my first year at Coach, and the exhibition that year was 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion,' a tribute to the great designer and couturier. And it was a proud moment for me to be able to attend and support the costume institute.
"My guest was the photographer — and now casting director — Rachel Chandler. I knew I loved her style, and felt confident it'd be a fun night. She has a very New York, very down-to-earth sensibility, so I was excited to think about how she would dress for the red carpet. We designed a special look which was a silk plaid jacket and skirt inspired by an all-American red and black plaid from my first ready-to-wear collection for Coach, which was the only one I had done at that point. We reinterpreted the plaid in a smaller scale and in blue and black. Rachel wore it with the edge I'd envisioned. American designers like Coach's Bonnie Cashin and Clare McCardell were on my mind at that point. My only nod to Charles James was the fabric, but the shape was definitely more of a reference to the American sportswear tradition.
"Rachel and I got ready together at the Carlyle Hotel and had a lot of fun. I don't think any venue has the elegance of old New York as much as the Carlyle, and I love being there — whether staying the night or watching jazz in the Cafe. I've since attended the gala with Chloë Grace Moretz, Dree Hemingway, Selena Gomez, Letitia Wright and Michael B. Jordan. Every time it's a new, fun experience, with unprecedented fashion to see, both on the guests and in the museum.
"It was a little terrifying to walk the red carpet — it's huge, but it was fun to look at everyone's outfits and soak up the atmosphere. After the red carpet, touring the exhibition feels really special. It felt like an honor to be one of the first to see it.
"What I love about the Met Gala is the sense of community you get from it. While I'm there, I always bump into friends, and it's an opportunity to connect with other designers and celebrate them, as well. To me, it's truly fashion's night of dressing up and going out. It's one of the most important fashion parties of the year, and I've always found that it inspires another level of creativity, pushing boundaries along the way. It's also just a good opportunity to let your hair down! The after-parties are always great, too — but I won't say too much about those. Let's just say it's always a late night."
Aurora James, founder and creative director of Brother Vellies
"The first time was 2018, for 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.' [I found out] probably two months before, which felt like no time because I was then talking to a couple of my friends and they were like, 'Oh yeah, we started working on this six months ago.' And I had never gone before. It was a little bit overwhelming.
"[My first thought was], 'Oh my gosh, what is my date going to wear?' My date was Solange. She's been a dear friend of mine for a long time, so there was no one else I would've wanted to go to my first Met Gala with, honestly. She's a very calm person, so that was helpful for sure, because I was a little bit nervous. She has such a strong personal sense of style and narrative, and that theme was very loaded — like, 'Heavenly Bodies,' everyone is going to have a completely different interpretation of that. It was really just about having conversations on what that sort of thing could look like. And for me, because I'm an accessories designer, there has to be a ready-to-wear component so it's pretty much always a collaboration.
"When it comes to editorial images or any sort of image that's going to be captured for Brother Vellies, I'm usually not thinking about the product and how the product's going to look, I'm thinking about the emotion that someone's going to feel when they look at that image. So for me, it's like, 'Okay, this is Solange's narrative and energy. How can I assist in creating a shoe that's going to support that?' If we're using latex, what does that material mean within the context of 'Heavenly Bodies'? We made a bag for her, for example, that carried Florida Water, which is a very specific thing from New Orleans that has a lot of spiritual associations with it. It's just really about an overall narrative and a message versus the specific product.
"I didn't think about what I would wear until the last minute, and what I wore was a dress I made with that Batsheva that I was originally going to wear to the afterparty. Honestly, what I was wearing was so far down on my priority list, I almost didn't even address it, at all. I don't think I tried that dress on until the day of that event.
"That's the thing, too: As a female designer, we are also expected to show up and look a certain way, be a certain way, present a certain way — versus a lot of male designers, who just show up in a Tom Ford suit every year and are good. They don't think about it the same way and aren't critiqued in the same way. And for me in that environment, my number one, number two, number three, number four and number five concern was her [Solange], so I just wanted to make sure that she was good. I'm so grateful that I happened to have that Batsheva situation work out.
"We had started making some other dresses in my office, that I don't think I finished it in time or I never tried it on. I remember grabbing [the one I wore] and putting it on. Batsheva and I probably did this like a week before? I went and picked a bunch of different fabric swatches and Batsheva made it. Then, Grace from my office, she embroidered a bunch of shells and swirls and crystals onto some of the details.
"The shoes that I wore are the ones I made for the 'Black Panther' collaboration that I did. The headpiece in my hair was actually a shoe accoutrement that we had made as an option for Solange, because we had made maybe 12 or 15 shoes for her. She was posting on Twitter trying to figure out what she was wearing — rest assured there was a shoe that was associated with every one of those options. The bag was actually a clamshell that we had turned into a clutch, because literally, I needed to have my possessions. My cell phone was in there! We made the fishnet out of pearls. Same with that bag that Solange [held] — the fishnet is thousands of Swarovski crystals, and took probably two weeks [to make].
"I had been watching the Met Gala for as long as I can remember. Being able to actually go felt really surreal. Also, you're not seeing a lot of female designers, so the concept of being able to do that in such a big space, with a friend and someone who has inspired and supported me from the very beginning, is so major. And the theme meant so much to us.
"I grew up in museums. I came to understand fashion from museums, and I was really raised to understand it as cultural commentary more so than product. So it was a lot of weight for me, being able to attend that event, because I think it's so important to keep that lens when we talk about fashion. We understand that it's more than just product, it's cultural narrative. With Brother Vellies, I always think to myself when I make something, is this archival? What would the plaque card say next to it? It needs to have something.
"There are so many people. I used to live in L.A. and I remember when the Academy Awards were happening in Hollywood, it would get a little bit crazy — but nothing like this. There are just lots and lots of people, and they're all screaming, trying to look in the car window. It was a little bit anxiety-inducing because, at the end of the day, I'm still kind of an introvert, so it's a lot. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it.
"To be honest with you, I was just so happy when we finally got inside, because I also really wanted to see the exhibit. Even with 'Camp,' I was trying to get in so fast because I wanted to see the exhibit so badly. I'm such a nerd. But there's this very overwhelming staircase you have to walk up, and that's always a little bit daunting. But once you get up there, you're home free."
Fernando García, co-founder and co-creative director of Monse, co-creative director of Oscar de la Renta
"When we started Monse, it was a company of five people, so the idea of attending the Met Gala [in 2016, for 'Manus x Machina'] was so unfathomable that I didn't even care to entertain it. However, because we had been in contact with Sarah Jessica Parker and her stylist, Erin Walsh, the summer we launched the collection, I simply kept the dialogue going.
"I told [Walsh] about our second collection that was going to debut in February, and she said, 'Oh, what about the Met Gala?' We were not even considering the idea. However, because Sarah Jessica wore something that we designed for her a month before our very first collection, which was [released] September 2015, I decided to extend the offer of doing something unique and special for the Met Gala — but not ever thinking, in a million years, that she would ever consider it. Somebody of her caliber has so many obligations and is busy all the time. I threw that in the pot and thought it would be fun if something comes from this, but most likely she will have other obligations. It was surprising when whatever idea I was pitching resonated. I think it was two or three weeks before the Met Gala that she was able to give us a final yes, when we decided to go full throttle.
"The concept of the Met Gala that year was what technology has done to fashion and how it has enhanced it. Sarah Jessica always thinks outside of the box — she never wants to look like another person wearing a metallic outfit. So I presented her with a technique that these artisans in Brooklyn were proposing, which was basically plastic that you hand-paint onto fabric, mimicking buttons of the turn-of-the-century outfits that women and men would wear. We combined it with a Monse pant that we had in our fall collection, which was a couple months prior to the Met Gala, and [with] Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton,' applying all of the details in today's technology, something that was'’t able to be made in those times. To her, that felt like a smart approach to the idea of the Met Gala that year. She always approaches things in a smart and cunning way, which is why she gave us the go-ahead.
"We weren't asking anybody else. First of all, we did not have the means to purchase a ticket. What we did was we asked Anna to let Laura [Kim] and myself attend the precursor to the dinner. Sarah Jessica is someone we have had the fortune of knowing for a very long time, so she made us feel really comfortable and she was holding our hands going up the steps, very much like a mentor would.
"Laura and I wore whatever we thought represented our brand — we wanted Sarah Jessica to be the star and wear something that felt encompassing the theme of the Met. I believe that Laura wore these deconstructed pants and I just wore a tuxedo. It was the beginning of the deconstruction trend that we proudly reignited, because it's something that we always loved. That's what we were thinking, to wear something that represents what Monse is going to be about, knowing that it was a brand that was less than a year old.
"I was a nervous wreck [that day]. It wasn’t unusual for me to go where [Sarah Jessica lives] to do a fitting, but it was extremely stressful knowing that I was going to be holding her hand walking up those steps, because of what that represented — it was sort of a signal to the world that something is about to begin. And we just didn't know how to hold that kind of weight over our shoulders, when someone like Sarah Jessica grants it.
"I was in the middle of the steps, so everybody was screaming to get out of the way because obviously they had no idea who Laura and myself were. But Sarah Jessica would hold our hands and walk up the steps with us and introduce us to reporters. Alber Elbaz bumped into us and I was baffled because he's one of my heroes. When Sarah Jessica saw him, obviously they greeted each other in a very endearing way. All I had to do was stare and Sarah Jessica knew that she needed to introduce me right away — and she did. It was one of the most cherished moments of the night.
"Nobody expected us to be there on year one of Monse. Everybody was like, 'How the hell did you manage this?' And that was because of Sarah Jessica."
"The first Met Gala I attended as I guest, the theme was 'American Woman' [in 2010]. I went by myself, though I dressed a few girls — one was Hilary Rhoda. First of all, I was in shock, so when I got an invitation, maybe three weeks [before], I wasn't nervous. But I was excited. I was really grateful to Anna and Vogue for the invitation, but I never expected it. I've always been that kind of person. I'll always be grateful. In the beginning, I thought my time will come. I didn't realize my time would come so soon, that it would come I think a year into my business or something like that.
"It was quite overwhelming because just a couple days before, I had dressed Michelle Obama for the White House Correspondents Dinner, the red gown. The hosts [of the Met Gala] were Patrick Robinson and Oprah. You know, I was relatively new, but the fashion photographers knew who I was. It was quite magical. I remember I went up there and Oprah was like, 'Prabal! Michelle looked amazing.' And that was all I needed to hear. That was my first experience when I went by myself. Everything was kind of like a blur.
"It's the event you hear about — when I was at Bill Blass as a design director, we dressed a lot of women who went. I never [did], so you live vicariously through stories or you look online. But more than that, you hear, 'Oh, this happened, that happened.' So just to be there, it was surreal for me because I was like, 'Okay, I'm a boy from Nepal. I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, but this was not part of my dream — it was a byproduct of my dream.' So I was very happy.
"I do have to mention, the next year  was the McQueen show, which was by far my favorite exhibition. I have never been so emotionally moved — like, I love fashion and everything, but I never thought I would have this out-of-body experience looking at someone else's work. It's mastery. Anyone who says fashion at that level that McQueen did is not an art has got to be kidding. It was so emotional to see one person's singular vision, fashion manifested into something that really touched all of our lives so emotionally. I will never forget that.
"The red carpet and all that stuff, I always look at it a little tongue-in-cheek. It's a part of my job, I enjoy it, I have fun with it, I understand the value and the importance of that for the museum — I don't take that lightly. But I don't take myself at that particular red carpet that seriously. I'm there to have a great time. What an incredible gift: I became a fashion designer to follow my passion, and then by the virtue of my work I get invited to a place where I'm able to meet other creatives from my industry and from other parts of the industry.
"For me, what was really exciting was, yes, there are celebrities, athletes and musicians, but it's the other designers I always look forward to. I think [the McQueen exhibit] was the first time I met Sarah Burton. I remember meeting Riccardo Tisci, Olivier Rousteing and Christopher Kane. Those Met Galas have become one night where we come together. It's a night of absolute bonding — we're not talking about work, we're literally having a great time. It's so good to see all your peers and friends and just having a laugh.
"[On the red carpet] there's this organized chaos. You get out of the car and there are fans that are screaming outside, whether it's for you or for the celebrities. There's security. Then you walk through and look at everyone else's clothes. Everyone's jittery, to step out and take pictures. You feel every human emotion possible in that moment, when you're at the bottom of the stairs and you look up: gratitude, elation, excitement, nerves. Everything becomes a blur because you hear your name, you're fixing a dress and then you get inside and it's quiet and so peaceful. It's all so beautifully curated and created. There's not a single detail that’s missed. I don't think there's any other night in my life that can match up to that."