Rare photos from the Met Gala show celebrities letting loose
Written by Jackie Palumbo, CNN
This year’s Met Gala, widely known as fashion’s biggest night, returns on May 1 – and the stars are sure to turn out this year for the ‘In Honor of Karl’ theme, four years after the death of fashion giant Karl Lagerfeld.
The event, which takes place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, coincides with the opening of a retrospective of Lagerfeld’s work on display at the museum’s Costume Institute. The German designer was best known for leading the creative direction of Chanel for more than three decades and Fendi for half a century, but he also left his mark on Chloé, Patou and Balmain during his career, in addition to running his own eponymous label.
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Images from the galas of yesteryear are alluring for their nostalgia factor and retro style, but they also reveal a more relaxed atmosphere.
Photographer Rose Hartman could sense the close friendship between Lynda Carter and Blaine Trump as they shared a laugh, but also noted how glamorous they looked while doing so. credit: Rose Hartman/Getty Images
Photographer Rose Hartman, who photographed the gala for decades into the early 2000s, recalled over the phone a time when there was more freedom to move around and interact with attendees. In 1986, she photographed actress Lynda Carter and socialite Blaine Trump during a laugh.
“They were just so happily talking to each other instead of posing,” Hartman told CNN in 2020. “I always try, whenever possible, to capture people who are engaged with each other.”
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Photographer Ron Galella, who has been shooting the gala since 1967, has a system in place to capture the best shots, from arrival at coat check to the museum floor and dinner. “It was easy to take pictures inside,” he wrote via email in 2020. “A New York Press pass was all you needed to get in.” (When press passes eventually became limited, there were years through which he slipped through the staff entrance.)
Cher smokes a cigarette during the 1974 Met Gala, “The Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design Showcase.” credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
In the decades since the first iteration of the event in 1948, the gala has transformed from an elegant celebration at off-site venues like Manhattan’s Rainbow Room to a fashion spectacle. Socialites and entertainers ceded the spotlight to A-list celebrities who made headlines for how they chose to interpret or ignore the theme of the night.
Ron Galella captured this light moment of Iman, Paloma Picasso and Rafael Lopez Sanchez at the 1983 Met Gala honoring the work of Yves Saint Laurent. credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
The change in guest list and atmosphere was largely due to a generational shift in vision. In the 1970s, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland positioned the gala as the opening soiree of the Institute’s major exhibitions and invited the crème de la crème of New York fashion and society. Her successor, Anna Wintour, favored famous musicians, actors and entertainment figures, using the event’s five-figure ticket sales to rake in millions of dollars each year.
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Supermodels Kate Moss and Christy Turlington joke around at the 1995 Met Gala. credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
“I love the fact that they’re walking, not standing,” Hartman said. “I love the gesture of their movement.”
Galella’s vast archive of Met Gala images, which he published in a book in 2019, also shows the tender gestures between celebrities when they’re not expecting the camera’s flash. In 1983, he photographed supermodel Iman and designer Paloma Picasso laughing as Picasso’s husband bent down to hug the statuesque Iman around her waist. In 1995, he caught Christy Turlington seemingly teasing Kate Moss by sliding a finger into a dangerous the low cut back of Moss’s white dress.
Top photo: Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour in 1999.