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Celebrity Dressing: Behind the scenes of a Met Ball gown

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

6 May 2018


The email from Stylist X arrived sometime early March. Would Designer X be interested to dress Celebrity 1 and Celebrity 2 for the Met Ball in New York? There was, of course, no decision to consider. Designer X, jubilantly, accepted the opportunity without hesitation.

The Met Ball gala, as we all know, is not your average fundraising gala. It is American fashion at its best; the upstate red carpet equivalent to Hollywood’s Oscar’s, with the international community at large absorbing every minutia of celebrity fashion as it gets broadcast around the world. This year’s gala will mark the grand opening of the Costume Institute's fashion exhibit “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”

Brands pay huge sums to ensure they have a presence

With Donatella Versace and Rihanna as co-chairs supporting Anna Wintour, it will be a fashion extravaganza that no Maison or designer wants to bypass or be omitted from. That is why a table can cost anywhere up to 500,000 dollars, and why brands including Chanel and Tommy Hilfiger are happy to pay those sums to have a presence. Not including the fees charged by celebrities to wear their garments.

Designer X, who is based in Europe, began researching, sending sketches of possible looks to Stylist X, along with fabric options, colour schemes and accessories. After a few exchanges, an amendment here and there, Celebrities 1 and 2 confirmed their looks and Designer X began the process of creating their gowns.

Everything from the dress to the accessories is made by hand

First came sourcing the fabric, which had to be sustainable. And bespoke. Everything from the hat to the jewellery to the beading was couture and had to be made according to the celebrities’ measurements.

The measurements - or rather a full body résumé - requires every dimension from the circumference of the head to the length of the arms, the width of the hips and all proportions from the neck down to the actresses toes. The full report is sent by email to Designer X, who in turn sends it to the pattern makers and seamstresses who by now have very little time to create two couture gowns. Without having the Celebrities close at hand for fittings it will be trial and error until the first dress is finished. And rarely does any designer get the first sample ‘right.’

The first toile is made of muslin

Which is why the first version is sensibly made of muslin, to accommodate a plethora of changes and to not waste precious fabric.

Everything went smoothly until the first fitting. A few days before they were due to fit the toile in New York, one of the celebrities had to film in Los Angeles. It no longer made sense for the designer to fit the dresses in person, so each celebrity was dispatched a dress by UPS. Stylist X would film the fittings and write notes of all the changes necessary, first in New York, then fly out to Los Angeles.

So many changes, so little time

The changes were considerable and very challenging for the studio. The amendments ranged from loosening the corset, allowing more fabric to cover the bust, reduce the décolleté, lengthen the train, replace the fabric of the bow with something lighter, change the pattern of the beading, and so forth, and so forth.

The Monday before the actual event, the sample dresses, pinned with amendments, were due to arrive at the designer’s studio. The New York dress arrived in time, however the Los Angeles gown was nowhere to be seen. Stylist X had returned it with courier FedEx, who outsource delivery to another company and the dress couldn’t be tracked. It eventually arrived end of day on Tuesday, two days before Designer X was to take the finished gowns to New York for the final fittings. Any further alternations required would be done the morning of the event.

At Saturday’s final fittings with the finished gowns - which Designer X had taken in person through customs and almost got crushed when pushed through the security scanner - the corset was a little tight on Celebrity 1. “Too many deserts,” she claimed. When the back zipper split, there was momentary tension, but thankfully the studio had included a replacement, just as there were extra buttons, beads, fabric and anything else that could be anticipated to be a problem.

Celebrity 2 wasn’t mad about the pattern of the beading, but as they were embroidered by hand there wasn’t much that could be done. The solution was to paint over them with a dark marker, matching the hue of the velvet fabric. Gone was the sparkle, which could have looked great in the photographs as she walks the red carpet, but more important is that the celebrity is happy and feels at ease in her gown.

Because at the end of the day, celebrities have a sea of choices in which brand they choose to partner with and which designer they wear on the red carpet. For many, or even most, there is a price tag attached. The Met Ball being an opportunity for both celebrity and designer to shine, a contract which benefits both parties.

Thankfully, for these two celebrities, no commercial fees came into question. In fact, they were kind enough to make a contribution to the overall cost, which for a young designer can run into the thousands of pounds. Something unheard of in the current climate of Influencer and celebrity marketing.

Disclaimer: Some names and events in this story have been withheld to protect the privacy of all parties involved. These names are known to the publisher who deem it important to relay factual information about the all aspects of the fashion industry while respecting pricacy of the people involved.

Photo credit: via H&M

Anna Wintour
Donatella Versace
Met Ball