There is no doubt that the Met Gala is the most anticipated event in New York City. Originating in 1948, it serves as an annual fundraiser for the Costume Institute, the only department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is self-funded. Held on the first Monday in May, the Gala marks the grand opening of the fashion exhibition. Over the years it has now solidified its status as a cultural phenomenon, transcending the realms of fashion to become a spectacle of global interest.

Orchestrating this transformation and outdoing herself year after year, has been Anna Wintour, the global content officer of Condé Nast, editor in chief of American Vogue, and a trustee of the Met, who took charge of the event in 1999. What started as a modest fundraising event of $50 a ticket is now a red carpet extravaganza where the world’s most influential figures from fashion, art, entertainment, and sports converge in a celebration of sartorial expression and artistic innovation.

This year the Met Gala raised for the Costume Institute $26 Million in one night. The financial success is attributed to $75,000 ticket prices, tables starting at $350,000, sponsorships, and extensive media partnerships like TikTok and YouTube. According to Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic of the New York Times, other fundraising events for cultural institutions in New York, pale in comparison. “The New York City Ballet raised a record-setting $3.4 million on the spring gala last year, with 2 galas a year it could arrive at $7 million. There is nothing like that. It is effectively a business, a pretty successful business”.

The Costume Institute’s collection consists of more than 35,000 garments and accessories representing five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dresses. Some of these which are too fragile to ever be worn again are the protagonists of this year’s exhibit: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”. According to Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Costume Institute, the theme is far more complex: it wants to explore notions of birth and renewal, the decay and the ephemerality of nature, as a metaphor for fashion and its impermanence.

The dress code for the event was “The Garden of Time,” inspired by J.G. Ballard’s 1962 short story. In the story, Count Axel and his wife live in a magnificent villa set in a dystopian countryside, surrounded by a garden of crystal flowers, while listening to Mozart, as an angry mob approaches. To keep the advancing crowd at bay, Axel must turn back time by plucking the flowers one by one until they are all gone, and time runs out.

The Gala’s 400 guest list is meticulously curated by Anna Wintour and kept top secret. Celebrities, designers, politicians, and influencers vie for an invitation, knowing that their presence and attire will be scrutinized by millions. Reports suggest that Wintour not only approves the seating arrangements but also influences the fashion choices of the attendees. While the red carpet serves as a stage for sartorial innovation, where avant-garde meets haute couture most spectacularly, it also functions as a carefully directed advertising campaign. This setup can be groundbreaking for designers and brands that manage to generate buzz, break through the noise, and win media approval.

Needless to say, in interpreting the dress code, designers push the boundaries of creativity and style, often presenting physical challenges for those who wear their creations. Extreme corseting, for example,  requires prior training and causes bruising, ask Kim Kardashian. Tyla in a Balmain sand dress could hardly move and had to be lifted up the stairs. Some are authentic masterpieces of craftmanship like Alia Bhatt’s Sabyasachi sari that employed 1,905 hand-hours or Jonathan Anderson’s mother of pearl bustier paired with a hand-painted chiffon skirt to mimic an iridescent seashell made for Ariana Grande.

Vogue is the main sponsor of the Gala and the primary source of official content. They control the narrative, the coverage, and the promotion. Condé Nast reported that the Met Gala Livestream garnered 74 million views across its platforms, including, YouTube, and TikTok, marking a 30 percent increase from the previous year. In the first seven days, the Met Gala’s video content, encompassing live streams, replays, and clips on various platforms, achieved a staggering 2.1 billion total video views, up 73 percent from last year.

“Our content strategy for the Met Gala focuses on one primary goal: to reach as many people as possible with engaging original content, which we hope will translate into visitors to the museum,” stated Vogue’s VP and Global Head of Content Strategy, Anna-Lisa Yabsley. “The fact that the Gala generated more social mentions than even the Super Bowl (4.5 times more) highlights the audience’s enthusiasm for this fundraising event. We are absolutely thrilled with the record-breaking numbers we saw this year.”

The Met Gala’s relevance and value are subjects of debate. While it raises substantial funds for the Costume Institute, some critics argue that it has shifted attention from fashion to the celebrity scene. The truth is that nowadays we all communicate visually and globally through social media platforms. This image and content consumption shapes pop culture and seamlessly integrates us into the fashion industry just because everyone we see in our feeds is wearing clothes. For brands, the Gala offers unparalleled exposure and marketing value. The event’s media coverage and social media engagement can significantly enhance a brand’s visibility and reputation. According to Oracle’s Moat, this year the Gala drove nearly 1600% more consumer time spent online than an average day. The crucial question is: is this surge in viewership worth the investment?

Although brands don’t disclose it, the cost of participating in the Gala can be astronomical. From 7 figure sponsorships and entire tables to custom hand-made looks for the red carpet and after parties, including all the expenses of the A-listers guests.

Measuring the return on investment requires a multifaceted approach. A sheer volume of engagement is not the only measure of success. The nature of the conversation and the alignment with brand values are key. By leveraging media analytics, social media metrics, sales data, and consumer insights, brands can better understand the impact of their Met Gala involvement. But is not an easy task, an entire industry has emerged to put a value on visibility. Companies such as Dash Hudson and Brandwatch provide rankings and insights using proprietary algorithms and AI-powered tools. Although these metrics are valuable, they do not capture the complete picture. Brands must look beyond the numbers to evaluate the quality of engagement and the potential for lasting impact.

The key takeaway is two view the Met Gala not as a one-off expense but as a strategic investment. By leveraging the platform not just for immediate visibility but as part of a broader, integrated marketing strategy, aligning the event with overarching business objectives, and ensuring that every aspect of the participation is meticulously planned, that investment can be maximized for long-term impact.

Kim Kardashian
Tyla Balmain
Alia Bhatt
Ariana Grande