How Liberace Took the 2019 MET Gala
Theme of 1966 essay "Notes on Camp" propels Mr. Showmanship to the forefront of fashion's night out
The MET Gala began in 1948, and soon became "the jewel in the City's social crown." It was created as a fundraiser for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Vogue Managing Editor Anna Wintour took the torch as Special Consultant running the event, after retirement of her predecessor, editor Diana Vreeland, who had run the event since 1973.
The first MET Gala was originally a midnight dinner with a ticket price of $50. By the time Liberace's Crystal costume graced the main exhibit floor, the coveted ticket price was $30,000, if you could get one. Total contributions exceeded $200 million that night. And Liberace, turning 100 that same month, found the zenith of his fashion influence, 33 years after his last concert, a couple of miles down the road at Radio City Music Hall.
What the stars have to say about it
The theme of the 2019 Gala was Notes on Camp, an essay published by philosopher Susan Sontag in 1966. She defined camp as "A sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricalization, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration rather than content." Putting this into what one would wear to the ultimate night of fashion found many turning to Liberace, whose iconic crystal costume was a primary exhibit during the event, and for several months after at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Many guests of the MET Gala in 2019 took the opportunity to pay tribute to various costumes of Liberace.
Ryan Murphy chose to have his designer make for him a version of Liberace's King Neptune costume and cape. The original is over 100 lbs, with the cape measuring 24 feet in circumference. Multi-colored with scenes of underwater choral on both sides of the 75 lbs. cape, the entire ensemble was designed by Michael Travis, who created masterpieces for Liberace from 1973 until 1986. The sketches of the costumes are at the Smithsonian, but the original costumes remain with the Liberace Foundation.
The woman in charge of the MET Gala, Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Magazine, Anna Wintour, also appears to have had some very specific inspiration for the lovely pink feathers and fleurettes number that she herself wore to the 2019 MET Gala.
The MET Gala looks of Anna Wintour and Ryan Murphy were not the only ones influenced by this costume. Perhaps the popularity of the piece in recent years had something to do with the choice. In 2013, it was one of the costumes most closely copied by the EMMY Award-winning costume designer of Michael Douglas, Ellen Mirojnick.
Mirojnick's version, created for HBO's Behind The Candelabra, was loaned by the Liberace Foundation in 2018 to the production of Amazon Video's Mozart In The Jungle. In two episodes of season 4, a spirit of Liberace appears to the main character and provides advice, clad in the classic King Neptune look.
Earlier the same year, the cape from the costume was borrowed from the Liberace Foundation by recording artist Kesha, and worn for her performance with Macklemore of their hit "Good Old Days."
Gwen Stefani was another of the several who wore costumes with direct Liberace inspiration to the 2019 MET Gala. Her lovely bejeweled bodice was reminiscent of Liberace bling, but the coat was a direct nod to the masterful Liberace original, conceived by Michael Travis and created by Liberace's master furrier Anna Nateece.
Gwen Stefani's stunningly glamourous look was a specific tribute to the Las Vegas style of Liberace.
This costume item too is immensely influential in pop culture, perhaps leading to the decision by Gwen Stefani and her designer to create her own version as a direct nod to Liberace as well. Prior to her version, the coat was first recreated by Ellen Mirojnick for Michael Douglas, like the King Neptune was, for HBO's 2013 hit, Behind The Candelabra.
After successfully obtaining the movie costumes by donation, the Liberace Foundation has been able to loan them for various licensed productions of film and stage. This giant white fur has been a popular request.
Michael Ian Black wore the Ellen Mirojnick version of the coat, in a licensed appearance of his Liberace impersonation on the Jim Gaffigan Show. Recording Artist Macklemore also wore the coat on The Adventures of Kesha and Macklemore.
Liberace MET Gala costume sponsor, composer Chloe Flower borrowed the Mirojnick coat also in 2020 for her holiday video, Carol of the Bells.
Many other celebrities took on Liberace looks at the 2019 MET Gala. Liberace was certainly the King of Camp!
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