It is not without intention that this year's May 5 Metropolitan Museum Gala and Costume Exhibit theme "Charles James: Beyond Fashion (1906-1978)" is diametrically opposed to last year's raucous and rakish "Punk." Considered one of the few true American couturiers, James perfected the art of the ballgown.
Simply put: That's the way Conde Nast artistic director Anna Wintour wants it. For the official opening of the newly renovated and renamed Anna Wintour Costume Center (to which Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch donated a cool $10 million), a source tells THR, "Anna wants more exclusivity and high fashion" -- though one-half of April's cover, Kim Kardashian, is still on the invitation list -- and raised ticket prices from $15,000 to $25,000 per person.
Vogue sent out an "informative email," says a source, "for gentlemen to be dressed in white tie. That means black tails and top hats -- you might as well ask them to wear monocles and canes!" Menswear designers, flummoxed, went back to the drawing board; few even do white tie. Expect a male contingent, including Gala co-chair Bradley Cooper, to be vaguely reminiscent of the Edwardians.
There's no mandate for women, but the Jamesian-style ball gowns are expected to stun -- and make group photos, as well as walking the Met's stairs, challenging. THR hears attendance was booked fast and early: Prada will be represented by brand face Lupita Nyong'o and Michelle Dockery; Prabal Gurung by Zoe Saldana; Givenchy by Amanda Seyfried; J. Mendel by Taylor Swift; Diane von Furstenberg by Margot Robbie and Olivia Munn; Tommy Hilfiger by Zooey Deschanel; with Jessica Chastain, Emilia Clarke, Naomi Watts, Jessica Pare and Allison Williams also attending. Lanvin's Alber Elbaz will be there with a mystery celeb, but not usual house model Emma Stone. According to sources, with less prominent designers, some stars are being paid to attend, flown in first-class, put up in hotel suites … and, of course, there's that steep ticket price.
GLAMOUR GIRLS: Charles James' evening gowns worn by models in 1959; from left: a white satin, black velvet ball gown with four-leaf clover skirt; a mermaid sheath with off-shoulder bands.
Now, according to another New York based insider, the pairing of designers and celebrities is as orchestrated by Anna as the Costume Exhibit itself.
"Here's how it works," the source tells THR. "Vogue brings the designers' clothes up to the magazine They lay it all out and then they pair celebrities with the designers and their gowns. The level of control is amazing. The invasion of Baghdad was nothing compared to this. If Michael Kors is coming, Anna is deciding which celebrity will wear Michael Kors and which Michael Kors outfit the celebrity will wear."
According to the source, one of the reasons this is done is so that Vogue's expansive coverage of New York's "Party of the Year," as it has been called in the past, will be able to feature a wide array of designers.
"They're developing content for the magazine," says the source. "They devote many pages of the magazine to this event, and they don't want photos of nine Diors and one Chanel," Source says that Anna's team also assigns celebrities and other key players to the tables of the deep-pocket donors in the room and even if they have bought the entire table, they may not get to decide who sits in all of the seats.
Source also said that when it comes to celebrities an invitation from Anna to this ball is essentially a command performance. "It's covers that are at stake here," says the source. "And not just Vogue -- all of Conde Nast," now that Wintour is the company's Artistic Director. "No excuses will be asked for because none will be accepted."
This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.