“I would love to go to the Met Ball as a guest,” filmmaker Andrew Rossi told ET shortly after the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of The First Monday in May. And he is not alone. However, unlike many fans of the Costume Institute Gala, the filmmaker was called upon by Anna Wintour herself to go inside and film what people call the social event of the season.
The result is a new documentary focusing on one of Wintour’s biggest legacies outside of Vogue. Also known as the Met Ball, the annual fundraiser benefiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City has become a major social event since Wintour became chair in 1995. The film looks specifically at planning the 2015 event, China: Through the Looking Glass, which sees Wintour and museum curator Andrew Bolton navigating cultural sensitivities and trying to secure Rihanna as the event’s marquee entertainment. (A highlight is watching Wintour implore the singer to lower her performance fee and make sure she stays on brand with the event’s theme.)
As director, Rossi went behind the scenes at every stage of the event, including inside the notoriously tight-lipped Met Ball, collecting over 400 hours of footage over the course of eight months. “The main concern while filming inside the Gala was not to disturb the experience that the guests had at the party,” Rossi says.
To get around Wintour’s restrictions, the documentary team placed camera crews in different areas of the Met to capture candid moments of Kanye West fixing wife Kim Kardashian West’s heel, Michael Kors and Kate Hudson walking through the exhibit, Chloe Sevigny walking up to her table only to realize it was abandoned, and Rihanna dancing on tables as she performed. One particular moment of Justin Bieber singing to himself just so happened as Rossi was shooting. “He came in and I followed him through the exhibition,” he says.
A particular favorite for Rossi came on the red carpet when Rihanna ascended the stairs in a handmade, yellow, fur-trimmed cape designed by Guo Pei. The train itself, a showstopper, covered the stairs as she stood near the top like “the queen of the night.”
“She captures the imagination as somebody who rules beautifully, and that's because she's wearing this beautiful dress, and because of who she is,” Rossi says of the singer. “And one of the things we talk about in the movie is how Anna Wintour has understood that celebrity and fashion together can equal more in the sum of their parts. So, I think that's the perfect moment to see that. Rihanna and that yellow dress are transcendent.”
This year’s event, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, co-chaired by Taylor Swift and Idris Elba, takes place on Monday, May 2.