Is the Met Ball Becoming Fashion’s Biggest PR Platform?

Beyonce Knowles makes her way up the Met Ball red carpet | Source: AP

NEW YORK, United States — Last night, and for the first time ever, red carpet arrivals at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala were live-streamed to the public on Vogue.com, Amazon.com and the museum’s own website, while viewers from across the globe were invited to participate via social media. As celebrities arrived at appointed times for their red-carpet rendez-vous, fashion watchers, bloggers and end consumers around the world responded to the red carpet looks in what became an online fashion conversation of global proportions. To wit, the Met Gala hashtag was a global trending topic on Twitter.

Hollywood’s red carpets have long been leveraged by brands looking to score press. Jimmy Choo, Marchesa and other brands have successfully exploited the Academy Awards as a global PR platform. But now, under the careful guidance of American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the Met Gala has earned a place amongst top-tier events like the Oscars and fashion businesses are harnessing the wattage of the annual spectacle to promote their own products and agendas.

Indeed, by early this morning, BoF’s inbox was already flooded with photos and press releases from last night’s event.

The Met Ball’s influence hit something of a new level last year, with the opening of the museum’s  landmark exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. While many industry observers openly wondered about the future of the Alexander McQueen brand following the death of its namesake designer in 2010, the Met Ball (along with a certain a wedding dress designed for Kate Middleton) propelled the brand into the global consciousness, doing wonders to help secure and solidify its position for growth in 2011 and beyond. The event also helped to attract an unprecedented number of visitors to the exhibition in the weeks and months that followed. In total, 661,509 people passed through the show, making it one of the most popular in the museum’s long history.

This year’s exhibit, Elsa Schiaparelli & Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations, explores the “striking affinities” and surrealistic approach taken by the two designers, showcasing approximately 90 garments and 30 accessories from the late 1920s to the present. Building on brand McQueen’s success last year, Prada dressed more than 40 bold-faced names for last night’s event, including co-host Anna Wintour and scores of Hollywood starlets, fashion editors and brand ambassadors.

What’s more, in a surprise announcement yesterday, Diego Della Valle, chairman of the Tod’s Group, which has quietly owned the rights to the Schiaparelli brand since 2006, revealed that Schiaparelli will be relaunched, with the opening of Maison Schiaparelli on the Place Vendôme in Paris and a new, yet-to-be-named designer set to show the brand’s first collection in nearly 60 years in March of 2013. Last night, actress and muse Farida Khelfa, who was named as a spokeswoman for the brand, attended the Met Ball dressed in vintage Schiaparelli. And although many of the attendees interviewed by livestream host Elettra Wiedemann admitted that they had never heard of Schiaparelli before, they had all done their homework in preparation for the big event.

But it’s not just the brands and companies featured in the official exhibition that are looking to benefit from the growing global visibility of the Met Gala. Sponsors like Amazon.com and chief organiser, American Vogue, also benefit from the event’s reach. Indeed, Vogue is among a very limited number of media channels with insider access to the event, which offers the brand incredible value. And although the amount of Amazon’s support was not disclosed, headline sponsorship of the Met Gala and exhibition is estimated to cost about $1 million, not a small sum, even for a giant like Amazon.

But Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, downplayed the importance of promotion in their decision to sponsor the Met exhibit. “We actually don’t look at it that way – this sponsorship is a sign of our support and commitment to the industry,” she told BoF.

Perhaps. But Amazon is also in the midst of a massive media push around Amazon.com/Fashion, which the company’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has identified as a major priority for the online retailing juggernaut. According to eMarketer, online fashion sales last year accounted for $34.2 billion in the US alone and consulting firm Bain & Company have estimated that the global online luxury retail market is set to reach 11 billion euros by 2015, growing at 20 percent per annum.

In the last year, Amazon has taken on former Barneys New York fashion director Julie Gilhart as a fashion consultant and signed on hundreds of contemporary and high-end brands including Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood and Catherine Malandrino. This among other initiatives to move Amazon into the online fashion space, including the launch of flash sales site MyHabit in 20011, the purchase of Zappos.com, a shoe site acquired in 2009, and full priced womens fashion site ShopBop.com, acquired in 2006.

Even companies not officially affiliated with the Met Gala have been positioning themselves to benefit from all the positive PR buzz the event generates. In addition to the reams of celebrities dressed by virtually every major fashion brand in the world, a number of independent vintage e-tailers have also timed Schiaparelli sales to coincide with the Met exhibit.

“Museums and exhibits create a zeitgeist that anyone in that field would latch on to,” Clair Watson, the fashion director at online luxury marketplace, 1stdibs.com, told BoF when asked about their own Schiaparelli sale which began late last week. “Schiaparelli herself said that fashion moves by events, politics and the cultural zeitgeist, and every retailer looks to these as an opportunity to increase sales.”

Similar Schiaparelli sales and promotions abound, ranging from Christie’s “Art of the Surreal,” an auction that took place in February, to a current Schiaparelli promotion on the website of London-based etailer Atelier-Mayer.

But perhaps most of all, when set against the broader rise of popular fashion movies, reality television shows and blogs that have helped to nurture global interest in fashion in recent years, the success and wider reverberations of last night’s event seem to underscore fashion’s potential as a growing genre of mass entertainment within which the Met Ball seems certain to expand its reach and influence.

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8 comments

  1. It’s definitely one of the biggest fashion moments and party-of-the-year. The last year, it’s been pushed and hyped to new proportions because of McQueen’s SAVAGE BEAUTY as well blogs and social media, but the physical absence of the biggest bloggers shows Anna Wintour’s preference for the culture – all probably BLACKLISTED, save for Hanneli Mustaparta. Will Anna ever open her invitation to the MET GALA to the blogger elite?

    RRinZRH from Zurich, 25, Switzerland
  2. Why would she invite bloggers? The blogger-hype is said to have ended about a year ago and have slowely come to accept that Scott Schuhman and Bryanboy are douchebags.

    Jan from London, London, United Kingdom
  3. It’s about embracing everything under the fashion umbrella especially new media with innovative technology. Scott Schuman gets about 13 million hits a month and street style photographers have inspired many a designer with their fashion details and their vision.

    It’s ANNA’s party and it’s certainly her right to control the invite list, but the absence of new media darlings is a clear admission of her resistance to the modernity of the fashion world. And yet she has no resistance to these bloggers posting, tweeting and re-posting – and helping her cause.

    RRinZRH from Zurich, 25, Switzerland
  4. The Met Gala is definitely a powerful PR event. I tweeted while watching the livestream and ended up having multiple fashion debates about the gowns attendees wore and the state of fashion in general. I tweet during events like the Met Gala because it’s a great way to gain followers and showcase my knowledge of fashion.

    One thing that does irk me is the fact that bloggers are used to promote the event but are never invited. It is a known fact that without social media and bloggers, the event would be yet another obscure Vogue event that’s only inclusive to the exclusive. Bloggers make the event relevant and we’re the ones who made it a trending topic but it seems that it’ll be the year 3000 before we get invited. That’s why I’ve made it my policy not to blog about events I don’t attend…no matter how major. It’s not worth the time and energy to give someone free press and I’m not even being invited. I suggest all bloggers do this, yes blogging about these events gets you traffic but think about it, is the traffic really worth it?

  5. Hanneli Mustaparta was a Vogue ‘creation’.

    When the magazine featured high-profile bloggers in their issue two years ago, the people at Vogue had to include Hanneli into the mix, in spite of the fact that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, NOT IN THE BLOGGING WORLD, HAD HEARD OF HER. It was all about the misfits, the rejects, the non-mainstream kids. Of course Vogue had to prominently feature someone of their kind. Hanneli, a former model, has that distinct Vogue look; distinct Vogue face.

    The Met Gala is all about design houses buying tables at the event and Hanneli was a guest of Calvin Klein.

    JF from Philippine, Benguet, Philippines
  6. I’m all for bloggers, but why would they invite bloggers? Tickets go for $25,000 a seat. The bloggers are still going to write about the event in the end, they don’t need to be invited to want to write about the Gala.

    twitter_stephkornblum from New York, NY, United States