Out of Scope

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Written by

Colin Groundwater

Out of Scope

This year’s Met Gala was about so much more than clothes.

The first Monday of May has come and gone, which means we’ve been treated to another Met Gala. This year’s theme was “The Garden of Time,” a surprising and deliciously ironic allusion to a J.G. Ballard short story about dystopian wealth inequality. But we didn’t see any Thomas Pikkety cosplay on the red carpet. Instead, lots of guests opted for bright floral attire and clever spins on the nature theme. Highlights included actor Ayo Edebiri’s Loewe florals, Tyla’s sands-of-time look, and many, many tuxedos.

The Met Gala is fashion’s biggest night out, arguably the most culturally important party in the world. But never forget—this shindig is a fundraiser, and this year’s event is the most expensive in its history. A single seat costs $75,000 (a 50% increase over last year) and tables starting at $350,000. Brands aren’t (only) buying the chance to rub shoulders with Zendaya. They’re buying prestige and influence, assertions of cultural relevance. Savvy operators in media, tech, and entertainment have always known this. Bob Iger, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos have all attended. With reporters flocking to cover the clothes, there’s always a big opportunity for reputation-craft.

That’s especially apparent this year, as stories from beyond the realms of fashion and entertainment have made an outsized splash in the annual media storm. Here are three stories from this year’s Met Gala with implications for communications professionals.

TikTok gets a seat at the table

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is an honorary chair of this year’s Met Gala. In other words, TikTok cut a fat check to sponsor the event. The event comes at a pivotal time for the social media application. President Biden just signed partisan legislation that demands the Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the app or face a ban in the United States. That won’t happen any time soon, as ByteDance fully intends to contest the law in the courts, but TikTok could do with a boost all the same. They’re getting it from the Met Gala. The honorary chair position represents a cosign from Vogue and the American media establishment, while the Washington Post published a feature story about TikTok’s transformative impact on the fashion industry. By sponsoring fashion’s biggest night, TikTok asserts its staying power—ban or not, its disruptive influence has already changed the game.

Lauren Sanchez, fashion icon

Bezos is back at the Met Gala, but it’s the first appearance with his new fiancé Lauren Sanchez. It’s the latest move in a bumpy but ultimately successful campaign to normalize what was, 5 years ago, a proper tabloid scandal. In 2019, the narrative around this relationship revolved around dirty texts, “extortion and blackmail,” and the most expensive divorce in history. Now Business Insider says “the Met Gala could cement Lauren Sanchez’s rise as a fashion star.” Sanchez (and, presumably, Bezos) have been carefully developing this narrative with public appearances and a Vogue profile. That groundwork has set up Sanchez’ Met Gala coronation.

Conde Nast Union Strikes Back

One of the biggest stories about the Met Gala never made it to the Met Gala, and that’s largely the point. The Conde Nast Union has been negotiating for a contract for months, but they ratcheted up the pressure the past few weeks, with a work stoppage last Wednesday and an ongoing social media campaign. Union members realized the first Monday of May was their greatest opportunity. In a post on X, the union wrote, “We’re doing whatever it takes: Meet us at the table or meet us at the Met on Monday.” It worked. Just 12 hours before the first guests arrived at the Met, a deal was announced that guaranteed $3.3 million in wage increases, policy changes, and expanded benefits. Plenty of flowers on this year’s carpet, but more importantly, no pickets.

Any major event is an opportunity to tell a story on your own terms, whether you’re an individual or a global brand. Keep that in mind as you scroll through the outfits from this year’s event —there’s a lot at play beyond the clothes.