How Do They Do They Come Up with That Met Gala Guest List Anyway?

It’s Anna Wintour’s world—the celebs in fancy dresses are just living in it

Once upon a time, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala—now known simply as the Met Gala or the Met Ball—was a major society event intended for wealthy, ballgown-clad museum patrons. Then, in the 1970s, longtime Vogue editor Diana Vreeland took over as host and things started to get, well, camp. Ever since since Cher stole the spotlight in a nearly nude ballgown (by Bob Mackie, natch), the gala’s become all about celebs. In the last few years, it’s been dominated by Kardashians, Jenners, JLo, Kanye—and of course, fashion queens Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s ball is “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” based on Susan Sontag’s famed 1966 essays about theatricality, surrealism, and humor when it comes to fashion. The co-hosts, along with Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who’s been the chair of the event since 1995, are Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, and Gucci creative director Allesandro Michele. Rupaul (as DJ), Chloe Grace Moretz, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Pose producer/writer Ryan Murphy, Cher, Tom Ford, Donatella Versace, Miuccia Prada, Valentino’s Pierpaulo Piccioli, Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller, Jennifer Lopez, Chadwick Boseman, and Venus Williams are all confirmed for Monday night.

But how does a celeb or model or socialite get on Vogue’s invite list in the first place? The 2016 documentary The First Monday in May, which was shot during the preparation for 2015’s ball “China: Through the Looking Glass,” actually follows Wintour and a large team of Vogue event planners through their process. Here’s what Wintour does not want: stars talking on their phones, stars texting all night (Kanye actually apologized for this one year—or he might not have been invited back), stars wearing dresses she does not approve of, stars who don’t adhere to the theme of the evening—and worst, stars who get no attention at all.

The list is all handled by Wintour and a large Vogue team, with the help of New York major fashion event/pr company KCD. “KCD also decides who will arrive when,” says a New York fashion insider who works with them. “The red carpet is only an hour long—you have to stagger arrivals. The most important star is always the last: Rihanna, Beyonce, Madonna. Anna likes to mix the models, the stars and the designers up, so you don’t have one block of the same type of people arriving together.”

When does the invite list get going? “The day after this ball is over!” says the insider. First, Met Museum curator Andrew Bolton and Wintour, along with the museum’s board and curators, decide what the theme of the next year’s exhibit will be. Then Wintour decides her co-hosts. Then the list begins. “The list, the seating, it’s mapped out by the Vogue team like a war room strategy,” says the insider. “It makes the Game of Thrones battle plan scenes look small time,” the insider goes on. “Anna, in the end, approves every invite, and every seating choice.”

Wintour and Vogue relegate celebs to particular designers and their tables: they wear said designer, and often arrive with and sit with them. But designers will give their input to Vogue as well. Are their luxury brands fighting over Lady Gaga? You betcha. Versace usually wins out because she’s pals with Donatella. Tables cost fashion houses from $200,000 to $300,000, and single tickets are $30,000. Of course celebrities don’t pay. (They never do.)

Who is definitely not on the list? Donald and Melania Trump, who attended for years, and got engaged there in 2004. Wintour was an outspoken supporter of Hilary Clinton’s, and hasn’t featured any of the Trump family in Vogue—or any Conde Nast magazines—since the 2016 election.

But what’s really interesting here: Wintour’s former longtime right hand on the Costume Institute Gala was Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (her stepfather is Harry Winston’s son). She once described the way to get invited as, “No money, no come-y.” Winston Wolkoff reigned supreme over the list, and became friends with many New York socialites. Sure enough, Melania Trump recruited her to help organize the Trump Inauguration balls held in January 2016. She was paid many millions for the job—and while she worked for Melania after she became First Lady, Winston Wolkoff was out of the White House when it was revealed how overpaid she was for the inauguration.

And, no, she will not be attending the Met Ball.

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