As American fashion evolves, so does the American celebrity.
The first high-profile guest to make her way up the Met steps and pose for the cameras Monday night was not Anna Wintour, nor Tom Ford, nor one of the buzzy Met Gala co-chairs, like Timothée Chalamet or Amanda Gorman. It was 20-year-old YouTube star Emma Chamberlain, in custom Louis Vuitton by Nicolas Ghesquière, no less. She looked great.
The Met Gala has a long-held reputation as one of the most glamorous, exclusive and secretive celebrity events in existence. Wintour maintains tight control over the guest list; details are always kept under wraps until that first Monday in May (or, in the case of this year, the second Monday in September); and phones and recording devices are not allowed inside. It might be because of that control and mystery that the public just can’t stop talking about it in the preceding days and weeks. Whether you work in fashion or just love celebrity gossip, it’s impossible to resist speculating, social-media sleuthing or fishing for rumors about who will be there and whose custom design they’ll be wearing.
Perhaps after a year devoid of fully produced red-carpet events, we were especially starved for gossip ahead of this year’s Gala. About a month prior to Monday night, Page Six published a juicy report on the rumored, influencer-filled guest list and sentiment around it that seemed to set the tone for this discourse. “Personally, I don’t think the Met is cool anymore,” a publicist “with A-list clients” apparently told the paper. “It’s gone from super prestigious to [being] full of influencers.”
Speculation around these rumored influencer attendees, including Chamberlain and TikTok phenoms Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio, dominated social media conversations in recent weeks. In fact, there was even a fake “seating chart” featuring the aforementioned names making the rounds, that teens gleefully ripped to shreds on TikTok. The debate around whether or not social media creators “deserved” to attend such a high-brow event alongside A-listers like Rihanna and Gwyneth Paltrow was bubbling up once again.
There had been a few isolated instances of this happening in years past, with Chiara Ferragni going in 2015 and Liza Koshy in 2018. The gradual infiltration of the Kardashian-Jenner family between 2013 (Kim’s first appearance) and 2016 (Kylie’s) also feels significant. But the discussion really heated up in 2019, after Camila Coelho, Lilly Singh and James Charles made their Met Gala debuts — the latter two as guests of YouTube. WWD asked skeptically, “Are Influencers Now Part of Fashion’s Elite?” There was also some mocking on social media, especially after Charles posted a sincere Instagram caption calling his presence at the event “a step forward in the right direction for influencer representation in the media.”
I think we all know that an unfortunate side effect of being young and experiencing meteoric social media fame these days is that everyone feels entitled to expressing their opinions about you and everything you do, and those opinions often aren’t positive; attending the Met Gala is just another example. That said, there has been a gradual shift in who gets access to this powerful red carpet, and it was undeniable this year.
This could have been predicted based solely on the sponsor: Instagram. In addition to underwriting the event, the industry’s most widely embraced social media platform also planned a spate of activations and collaborations around it, led by Head of Fashion Partnerships Eva Chen, something of an influencer herself (including being among the first of many, many editors to leave fashion publishing for tech).
“We’re doing a lot this time because we’re a sponsor,” Chen tells me in between making a speech at Monday morning’s Met press conference and putting on her spectacular Christopher John Rogers gown for the night. “We’ve participated in the Met for a few years now and this year with the theme, it just really felt like such a good fit for Instagram.”
The platform tapped @SaintHoax to report live and in-person from the red carpet as an official Meme Correspondent. It held a viewing party for influencers at the nearby Mark Hotel, setting up a Reels booth there and inside the actual event. It partnered with Charlotte Tilbury on a shoppable Instagram Live to show followers how to recreate her clients’ looks. It also partnered with Vogue and The Met Store on a range of merch by brands like Virgil Abloh, Pyer Moss and Bode, available through monthly drops via Instagram Live Shopping (a more recent feature of the app) and on The Met Store’s Instagram account. Also on the retail front, the app is working with celebrity glam teams to test a new affiliate tool that artists and influencers can use to link out to products.
“I think now more than ever, the Met will feel really dynamic,” says Chen. “It’ll feel really inclusive and approachable. And if you’re inspired, you’re going to be able to bridge that gap from inspiration to real life, really effortlessly through Instagram.”
The event’s previously announced co-chairs — Osaka, Chalamet, Billie Eilish and Amanda Gorman, all under age 25 — also hinted at what did turn out to be a younger-skewing guest list than usual.
“I think this year’s Met reflects the times we’re living in,” Chen adds. “And that a lot of the voices there, as evidenced just by the people who were chosen to be co-chairs, really reflect the new spirit.”
At its table, Instagram hosted a group it described as “the next generation of designers, artists, actors and creators”: Megan “Thee” Stallion, Saweetie, Brooklyn Beckham, Nicola Peltz, Lil Baby, Evan Mock, Jordan Alexander, Kid Cudi, Precious Lee, Paloma Elsesser, DJ D-Nice and Natalia Bryant (Kobe’s daughter), alongside American designers Stuart Vevers, Kerby Jean-Raymond and Christopher John Rogers.
YouTube secured a table as well, hosting Chamberlain, Rae, Jackie Aina, Eugene Lee Yang and Nikkie de Jager of NikkieTutorials. Other youngsters in attendance for the first time included Ella Emhoff, Barbie Ferreira, Madison Beer, Kaia Gerber, Whitney Peak, Olivia Rodrigo and Chloe X Halle.
YouTube’s presence at the event is the work of its Director of Public Figures and Head of Fashion and Beauty, Derek Blasberg, essentially Chen’s counterpart.
“Like so many fashion folks, I grew up idolizing this event. I can even remember watching the footage of Princess Diana in the navy blue John Galliano lingerie-inspired dress in 1996 on TV back when I was a kid living in Missouri,” Blasberg writes in an email ahead of the event. “The importance of this event has been undeniable. When I joined YouTube in 2018, one of my goals was to bridge the gap between the incredibly robust style communities on YouTube and the traditional fashion industry. You can’t get more traditional than the Met Gala.”
Blasberg says his table of YouTubers in 2019 were actually welcomed warmly inside the actual event, with celebrities regularly coming over and asking for selfies. “We’ve seen many fashion brands embrace creators and new voices in this industry. I think it’s actually been very uncontroversial,” he argues, referencing Chamberlain’s ongoing relationship with Louis Vuitton, that began over two years ago, as an example. (She regularly attends the house’s runway shows, works with it on video content and recently appeared in a footwear campaign.) Chamberlain also worked for her invite (hence her early arrival), interviewing celebrities on the red carpet for bite-size clips that were posted in real time to Vogue‘s YouTube channel.
It’s also worth noting that even massive companies like YouTube and Instagram don’t just get to buy tables and bring whomever they want — Wintour still gets the final say on who receives an invite, meaning this year’s attendees also speak to her current inclinations. “We’re grateful to Anna for having the vision to invite fresh faces to her party year after year,” Blasberg says.
When de Jager, who is Dutch, found out she was invited, her initial reaction was disbelief. “I thought they were pranking me, ’cause there was NO WAY I’d ever be invited to the Met Gala!” she writes in an email. “But here I am… and I’m so incredibly thankful to get this opportunity.” For her, the goal was not just to represent YouTube or speak to the power of social media, but more so to represent the trans community. (The popular makeup artist famously came out last year in one of 2020’s most-viewed videos.) She worked with designer Edwin Oudshoorn on a dress inspired by American activist Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising.
“She was known for wearing her beautiful flowers and giving them to people. That’s why I’m covered in flowers and wearing her famous quote, ‘Pay it no mind,’ so proudly. A real example of ‘American Independence,'” de Jager shares. She’s been filming her preparations for the event and looks forward to letting her followers in on the process. “For the longest time the Met felt like it was unreachable, but hopefully I can be proof that anyone with a dream can make it.”
From this, to Yara Shahidi’s homage to Josephine Baker, to Eilish’s Holiday Barbie Oscar de la Renta moment, and even Rae’s Fall 2003 Gucci dress by American designer Tom Ford, the event’s Gen-Z contingent were among the most thoughtful about dressing with respect to the theme, Chalamet’s sweats and Converse notwithstanding. And sure, there was some inevitable snarky internet commentary about Rae and co., but you can bet this is just the beginning when it comes to the Met Gala’s generational shift — akin to the one we’ve already seen take place at fashion week front rows — because as American fashion evolves, so too, does the American celebrity.
“Fashion and beauty creators are not only super fans of the style industry, but also are style stars in their own right. Just look at how many people subscribe and watch their content. It’s a natural progression of the fashion industry to embrace new talent, whether they’re musicians, models, actors or influencers,” writes Blasberg. He’s not alone in this sentiment.
“In my opinion, this is a very natural and foreseeable evolution,” says Marc Beckman, the founding partner and CEO of DMA United, an advertising and representation agency that brokers deals between brands and talent. “Throughout history, new media (i.e., print, film, audio, etc.) rewrites the definition of ‘celebrity’ for American society. Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have provided talented, insightful, beautiful, and creative individuals an outlet to showcase their skills, effectively providing a new media forum for the next definition of ‘celebrity.'”
There’s no doubt that this year’s social media-savvy attendees brought a younger audience into the Met Gala conversation, so they’ll continue to be of use to brands who want to court that audience, especially now that Wintour has given them her seal of approval for fashion’s most prestigious night.
“Historically, the Met Gala guest list features our culture’s best and brightest,” Beckman continues. “Thus, expect our social media influencers to be rubbing shoulders with the fashion elite for years to come.”