Among the biggest fashion extravaganzas in the world, Met Gala is an annual event fashion lovers everywhere look forward to. Formally known as the Costume Institute Gala, it is a fundraising benefit held for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on the first Monday of May every year. The prestige and popularity of the event can be gauged through the fact that it’s often referred to as “the Oscars of the East Coast”.

The fundraiser grabs eyeballs globally and creates buzz across all media platforms. With the who’s who of film, fashion and music industries in attendance, the gala is rightly termed as “fashion’s biggest night out” and “the party of the year”.

While its guest list features the same A-listers who walk the red carpet of any big event, the Met ball has something special to its credit. It is lauded for outshining others in terms of the style quotient. All the Met attendees are required to dress up in eccentric apparels, and to make daring fashion statements with panache.

This invitation-only gala marks the grand opening of an annual fashion exhibit hosted by the Costume Institute in New York. The theme of this exhibition provides the dress code for the celebrity event. And Met Gala 2018 was centred on the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”.

Hence, celebrities graced the red carpet wearing jaw-dropping, iconic outfits that were inspired by Catholic iconography. Celebrities who outstaged all the others on the opening night were Rihanna, who was in a custom Maison Margiela by John Galliano, channeling the Pope; Lena Waithe, in a Carolina Herrera dress with a rainbow-flag cape; Priyanka Chopra, in a Ralph Lauren velvet gown with medieval-themed bejeweled hood; and Blake Lively, in a regal Versace gown among others.

The museum’s grand entrance witnessed powerful headgears like halos, tiaras and veils, ornate jewels and crosses. On the other hand, the museum has put a diverse range of vestments, artifacts and objects on display. All these were brought in directly from the Vatican.

We now know of the Met Gala as an affair where subtlety takes a backseat, and fashion and imagination run wild. Back in 1948 when the first edition of the gala held, it used to be an exclusive high-society event done for charity. Back then, it used to host to a lavish dinner for museum benefactors and patrons.

The transformation of the sophisticated annual dinner to an edgy fashion platform happened gradually. Met Gala’s red carpet show was the brainchild of Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue. She became a chair of the Gala for the first time in 1995, and took charge of the committee and the guest list around 1999. Today, it has become fashion industry’s premier red-carpet event.

The hosts this year, along with fashion powerhouse Anna Wintour, were Rihanna, Donatella Versace and Amal Clooney. Honorary chairs included Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone, and his wife, Christine, who have been sponsoring the fashion exhibition for 22 years.

The themes are a big part of Met Gala’s red-carpet events. Every year, a series of eye-popping outfits are showcased here. In 2016, Emma Watson turned up in a Calvin Klein dress made of recycled plastic bottles, creating history of sorts.

The theme in 2016 was “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”. In 2015, it was “China: Through the Looking Glass”; In 2013, it was “Punk: Chaos to Couture”; in 2010 it was “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”, and in 2006 it was “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion”.

While attendees are encouraged to dress in accordance to the theme, and are given ample opportunity to explore their imagination, the end-products at times get critised and generate controversies. In the past, some of the outfits worn by celebrities have been called outrageous by fashion police, even though loved by the chairs. In a show that boasts of drama aplenty and styles that outsiders seldom understand, outfits often receive mixed reactions.

Many celebrities have played it safe in the past. Instead of sticking to the theme, they try to steal the show on the famous stairs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with their power dressing skills. This year, Deepika Padukone stunned everyone in her scarlet gown, and even though it wasn’t in accordance to the theme, she managed to garner praises for her look.

What makes the Gala such a big deal? It is one of the most important fashion events in the calendar, and getting onto the guest-list is no easy task. Anna Wintour oversees it herself and there are about 500-700 invitees only. Given the spectrum of industries covered in the list, it is a small number.

After the Met Gala, the main exhibition is kicked off, which runs for several months. As for what happens after the guests pose on the iconic stairway, there’s a private party where they mingle with each other and have fun. To keep the details of the party under wraps, posting pictures of the night on social media has been banned by the committee for the past three years.

All the funds raised from the event go to the Costume Institute, which is the Met’s only curatorial department that has to fund itself, as fashion was not acknowledged as an art form when the institute was established. And the tradition of raising funds through philanthropy continues.

At the pinnacle of charity and fashion today, Met Gala each year defines and redefines inspiration, risks and imagination in the world of fashion. Celebs and stylists are often seen taking the plunge and displaying avant-garde outfits. For instance, Claire Danes in 2016 owned the red carpet with her elaborate ballroom dress by Zac Posen, but what surprised all was its glow-in-the-dark feature.

Time and again celebrities have aced their looks and emerged triumphant in representing the theme brilliantly. Some of the best looks and fashion moments from the history of Met Gala include Rihanna’s sculptural Comme des Garçons dress, Beyoncé’s latex flesh-toned Givenchy, Rihanna again in a sweeping Guo Pei gown, Sarah Jessica Parker in a tulle-and-tartan dress by Alexander McQueen. The list goes on.

At the Met Gala, attires matter and sartorial symbolism can speak volumes. The event has been flocked by fashionistas, designers, actors, models, politicians and business magnates in the past. And it continues to be one of the paragons of our age.

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