On Monday, throngs of celebrities — actors, musicians, athletes and more — dressed in five-figure dresses, will ascend the stairs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the most glamorous party of the year: the Met Gala.
And it seems that many of them are already counting down the minutes until it’s over.
According to insiders, the evening, hosted by Condé Nast artistic director and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, has lost its appeal and turned into a high-pressure, corporate mammoth. In recent years, stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey and Demi Lovato have turned on the ball, dishing on the awkwardness and how tiresome it’s become; Amy Schumer even referred to it as “punishment” in a 2016 interview with Howard Stern.
One Hollywood handler told The Post that the event was the “Mean Girls” of galas, with Wintour banning those she dislikes and instilling a pecking order everywhere from the red carpet (she reportedly dictates what time each celebrity arrives) to the seating chart (the closer to Wintour, the closer to God). Bored of the event and perhaps emboldened by rumors of Wintour’s imminent exit from Condé, some A-listers are opting to skip the festivities altogether — a move once unheard-of.
The Hollywood handler said she has four A-list clients who declined their invites this year. “They want to take a year or two off. It’s the same thing. It’s long, drawn out and boring.”
“Look, it’s a very tedious night,” said a celebrity publicist who has two clients attending. “It’s very much work for them. It’s very structured, there’s a lot of pressure to network, and [it’s] not that much of an enjoyable evening.”
The Met Gala was started in 1946 as a charity ball for the Costume Institute. But when Wintour took over as gala chair in 1995, she turned it into a star-studded affair and one of the biggest fundraisers in NYC. Commanding between $30,000 to $50,000 per ticket (tables can range between $275,000 to $500,000, according to sources), the ball raised more than $12 million last year. This year’s exhibition is “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” and Wintour will be co-hosting along with Rihanna, Donatella Versace and Amal Clooney.
But not just any rich person can get in. The gala is invite only and Wintour personally approves every single attendee. A number of the tables are purchased by brands like Chanel and Stella McCartney who invite celebrities and models as their guests. (These people, too, must still be approved by Wintour and Vogue.)
In case it wasn’t clear who is in charge, in 2014, the institute was renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center.
All that hype and pedigree can make the most seasoned of famous persons uneasy.
“I think celebrities are nervous [to attend] because it’s the who’s-who of fashion and the whole entertainment industry as a whole,” said makeup artist Ashlee Glazer who has worked with starlets for the Met Gala. “They are going to be judged from 360 degrees.”
Adding to the stress is the fact that the Met Gala doesn’t allow most guests to have their personal publicists on the red carpet, let alone inside the venue. This is unlike other red-carpet events such as the Oscars, where celebrities are accompanied by handlers who help navigate interviews and photo ops, and straighten skirts (or even pick gum off the bottom of their shoe, as power publicist Stephen Huvane was once photographed doing for client Kirsten Dunst at a movie premiere).
The anxiety of walking solo (unless you happen to have a significant other as famous as you are, or are the guest of a designer) onto one of the most photographed red carpets of the year — which involves climbing 28 steep steps in stilettos while paparazzi shout your name — can be crippling for those who are typically never without their support team.
“A couple of years ago, Tom Ford couldn’t bring his person [to the gala] and he . . . threw a hissy fit,” said a Met Gala regular. (A Ford spokesperson denied this.)
The Met and Vogue limit the number of credentials allotted for the red carpet due to space constraints. Co-chairs and the night’s musical performers (Katy Perry sang for the crowd in 2017) are sometimes allowed to bring their personal handlers, as are select celebrities.
“[Vogue] claims they have enough people to walk your clients up because they hire KCD [a public relations firm] for the party,” explained the Hollywood handler. “The problem is, KCD doesn’t know the clients. And clients pay publicists for a reason — because there is five, 10 years of comfort built up.”
The Met Gala is far from a warm and fuzzy event, say some attendees.
“The overall ambience isn’t super friendly,” said the gala regular. “It’s not like walking into a party where you know everyone and everyone’s happy to see you.” She recalled an incident when Taylor Swift snubbed a chatty, wealthy guest.
“If you walk into the girls bathroom, all the celebrities are hanging out together, smoking together and ignoring everyone else,” the gala regular added. (Cell phones are banned from the gala, but attendees skirt the rules. Last year, the Department of Health got involved after social media posts showing attendees smoking in the bathrooms went public.
The museum issued a statement that it would “take steps to ensure this does not happen again.”)
In a Billboard interview, Demi Lovato, who had accompanied designer Jeremy Scott to the 2016 gala, said one celebrity at the event “was a complete bitch and was miserable to be around. It was very cliquey.” (Speculation abounded that she was referring to Nicki Minaj, who was also Scott’s date and who was photographed giving Lovato side-eye.)
The singer — an admitted recovering alcoholic — was so ill at ease that she felt compelled to drink. So she left early and headed to an AA meeting.
“I related more to the homeless people in that meeting who struggled with the same struggles that I deal with than the people at the Met Gala — fake and sucking the fashion industry’s d–k,” she said.
She’s not alone.
Tina Fey called the event a “jerk parade” while on David Letterman’s show in 2015.
“If you had a million arms and all the people you would punch in the whole world, they’re all there,” she said of her Met Gala experience. “Clearly, I’ll never go again.”
After the 2016 Met Gala, Dunham said the Met should be renamed the “Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes” after Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whom she was seated next to, ignored her.
“It was like a crazy countdown to when [I] could escape,” she wrote in an essay (since removed) for her Lenny newsletter. (Dunham later apologized to Beckham for projecting her own insecurities onto him.)
Schumer told Howard Stern the same year that the whole party is a farce: “It’s people doing an impression of having a conversation.”
Despite how glamorous the red-carpet photos of starlets seem, the Hollywood handler says it’s a “s – – t show.
“It’s very dog-eat-dog,” added the regular. “People won’t move out of the way [on the carpet] for the next person.”
Gwyneth Paltrow vowed never to return after attending the 2013 punk-themed gala.
“It was so un-fun,” said the Oscar winner in an interview with USA Today. “It was boiling. It was too crowded. I did not enjoy it at all.”
Paltrow’s self-imposed ban lasted four years before she returned in 2017. Both Schumer and Dunham returned to the gala the very next year after voicing their complaints.
“It’s to stay relevant and stay in the good graces of Anna Wintour,” said the Hollywood handler. “She can make or break you. To be honest, I’m surprised she even let them back.”
In recent years, mass retailers such as H&M have bought tables and dressed celebrities for the event — which some claim gives the affair a contrived feel.
Fashion insiders say they miss the days when it was unheard of for a mass brand to even have a table, and wealthy patrons could buy tickets without being subjected to Wintour’s whim.
“It used to be a really fun event,” said a fashion source who helps style celebrities for the red carpet. “New Yorkers would interact with David Bowie, and it was fun and amazing. But people say it’s just become a corporate pressure cooker.”
“It’s very high school,” added an industry insider. “There are plenty of people who have enough money for Met Ball, but . . . if [Anna] doesn’t deem you worthy, you’re not coming. Considering that it’s a fund-raiser, that’s extremely elitist.”
Even if you make the cut, there’s still plenty of opportunities to feel slighted. The “First Monday in May” documentary — a behind-the-scenes look at the 2015 gala — exposed just how calculating Wintour is. In it, she says a certain guest can attend the gala again per his request, but on one condition: “Can he not be on his cellphone the entire time, then?”
(Page Six reported that the guest was Allison Williams’ husband, Ricky Van Veen).
But even being at the best table, says the celebrity publicist, has its pitfalls.
“If you sit at Anna’s table, it adds stress. You’re sitting with Anna Wintour! She expects you to mingle with all the guests who are sitting at the table. It’s more work.”
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