On May 1, 2023, artists and other celebrities gathered in New York City for the Met Gala, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. This year’s ticket price? $50,000 per person.
Now, we don’t want to make assumptions, but we’re guessing our readers at home don’t have that kind of coin.
But, we wondered: How many of those who watched the gala gave any thought to the labor that goes into these luxury garments?
Twelve artists spent 1,000 hours making Kim Kardashian’s Daniel Roseberry dress, which had over 60,000 pearls. We’re not sure how many people worked on Robert Pattinson’s Dior ensemble, but we don’t doubt that its creation was “time-consuming.”
Since this year’s Met Gala fell on May 1, International Workers’ Day, it seemed to us that it would have been more appropriate to turn the spotlight away from the red carpet and toward the real stars of the night – the countless people who labored, behind the scenes, to create clothes so stunning that they could make even a C-suite asshat from Meta look amazing.
That didn’t happen. So, we’re taking a moment to highlight the work of costume designers in the film and television industry. Their countless hours of hard work lead to incredible and wearable works of art – and their invaluable contributions to the entertainment we all enjoy are too often overlooked.
What follows are some insights from costume designers whom we have interviewed or brought as our guests to Washington, D.C.
Allyson Fanger (80 for Brady, Grace & Frankie)
A lot of what I do is psychology in the fitting room. Costume design is never really about fashion, it’s about character. When I’m working with professional actors, they know exactly how they like things to fit on their bodies, and my job is to fill in the details of their character and help them to portray the character as best as they can.
Watch our full panel featuring Allyson Fanger here.
Katie Irish (The Americans)
I love being able to tell you who a person is before he or she even opens their mouth. It’s something that not everyone watching can necessarily put into words, but you get a feeling for who a person is through the costume design.
Costume design is not a big brush stroke – the earrings that someone is wearing coupled with the stitching on a blouse can really start to tell you who a person is.
Read our full conversation with Katie Irish here.
Mary Vogt (Crazy Rich Asians)
[Director John M. Chu] and I worked very closely together to make all the costumes in [Crazy Rich Asians] meaningful … they’re not just costumes, it’s not a fashion show. It’s about the emotion of the characters, and I think that’s what sticks with people when they see the movie. When something has an emotional connection to the characters and to the script, the audience feels it too.
Watch our full panel featuring Mary Vogt here.
Donna Maloney (You, The Yellow Birds)
Once the costume is decided upon, the [costume] supervisor is responsible for all of the continuity – making sure everything gets aged and dyed. If it needs to look like it’s 100 years old, the costume supervisor is in charge of hiring the person who does that. The costume supervisor makes sure it’s delivered to where it needs to be and brought back in time for it to be in the film. All of the logistics of the costume department is on the costume supervisor.
This might mean running to department stores to track down multiples of an item because the production needs six more of the same outfit. It can mean consulting with the assistant director, so you know how many background actors they are going to use, how they’re going to load in 15 wardrobe racks in the morning, dress all of the background actors, undress them at the end of the night, hang all the clothes, and put those 15 wardrobe racks back on the truck. It’s a lot of moving parts that go with what we do.
Read our full conversation with Donna Maloney here.
Dana Covarrubias (Only Murders in the Building)
In season one [of Only Murders], there was a plot line involving the Hardy Boys novels, and in my research, I went to all the original prints of those books, and I was able to draw a lot of inspiration from the cover art. There were deep crimsons and marigolds and teals, and that ended up being the color palette that we used throughout the first season’s costumes.
A lot the time I’m the first person from the production that an actor interacts with, and the first thing I’m asking them to do is to take off their clothes and put on this costume, so there’s a lot of building trust involved in my job. So, in addition to being an artist and an organizer, a costume designer has to be a people-person as well.
Watch our full panel featuring Dana Covarrubias here.
One thing that all our costume designer friends can agree on? Creating memorable costumes is hard work, whether you’re dressing extras for a film or sewing pearls to Kim K’s dress for the red carpet.
Next time you’re admiring the extravagant attire donned by celebrities at any gala, please consider the artists who created these works of art.
Maybe in the future the Met Gala will embrace that idea – celebrating the hard work of creatives. #StandCreative