How Musicians Like Rihanna Made The Met Gala Mainstream

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Rihanna attends the "China: Through The Looking Glass" Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City.  

As one of the buzziest events of the year, the Met Gala—a night that celebrates and raises millions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—can be counted on for its incredible celebrity turnout and their equally incredible themed ensembles. But that wasn’t always the case. It’s hard to remember that when it launched 71 years ago, the Met Gala was, first and foremost, a very serious, high-society, insular Fashion affair. Even 20 years ago, that was still the case, despite an increase in stars on the guest list, but nowhere was the red carpet like it is today. So when did that change—and how?

“It used to be such a private event,” says Ade Samuel, stylist to Big Sean, Kelly Rowland, and Jhene Aiko. “By inviting entertainers—entertainers who have a huge influence in fashion and in pop culture—it’s allowed the Met Gala to be seen and be recognized for what it is: an amazing fashion event that honors designers. It’s mainstream now, but it needed it to be that way, honestly.”

Social media, too, plays a huge role. Because while Brandy attended the gala in 1995 and Madonna in 1997, it’s the reach of today’s most influential stars that have all of America (if not the entire world) to closely monitor the red carpet, to engage on Twitter and Instagram, and to be at the ready in case someone’s outrageous look could be turned into a meme (Rihanna, who has 71.4 million followers on Twitter, and her stunning canary yellow Guo Pei creation, which was likened to an omelet comes to mind)—because in our viral-driven society, isn’t that what matters most? It’s not really about what the event is actually about, but social currency? To garner the most likes?

But where musicians outperform traditional Hollywood stars is the sartorial arena. Factor in the theme (every year, the Met Gala dress code is based on the exhibit itself), and the red carpet becomes rife with one outrageous look after another, with artists one-upping each other with the wildest, craziest look (again, Rihanna’s Guo Pei look).

“It literally is like a Halloween party—it’s so fun, that you get to explore with these archive couture pieces,” Samuel says. “ Entertainers are like storytellers, and that the beauty of working with them—they’re bold, they have the ability to create magical moments in these gowns, and they can bring their stage self to life. They’re, essentially, a walking editorial.”

Not to sound like a broken record, but Rihanna’s regal Guo Pei couture number (that weighed 55 pounds and required three assistants) from the 2015 Met Gala was one of those moments. And there was also Lady Gaga’s pantsless look by Atelier Versace last year. And Beyonce’s latex number by Givenchy the same year. And Madonna’s controversial Givenchy dress that served as a political statement.

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Madonna, Donatella Versace and Elton John attend the Metropolitan Museum of Art for opening of the Costume Institute's exhibition of the fashions of the late Gianni Versace in 1997.  
Lady Gaga attends "Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology" Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City.  Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Andrew H. Walker/REX/Shutterstock
?Beyonce arrives at the “Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology” Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. 
Rihanna attends the "China: Through The Looking Glass" Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City.  Mike Coppola/Getty Images

And with “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between” as this year’s theme, we can expect to see a red carpet packed with creations that boast out-there shapes and surprising textiles. But more importantly, with the help of hosts Katy Perry (and her 97.4 million Twitter following) and Pharrell (and his 10.1 million Twitter followers), along with the slew of artists, it’s a night that will showcase, highlight, and bring awareness to Rei Kawakubo’s life’s work. It’s a beautiful intersection between celebrity and fashion.

“The artists know that this is their time to go for it, especially with Comme des Garcons,” Samuel says. “And I think the bigger the Met Gala gets, as long as it doesn’t become too focused on entertainers, it will remain a beautiful event.”