On a normal day, when a visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art enters the Great Hall from Fifth Avenue, the first thing they see is the information desk: an octagonal marble structure smack dab in the middle of the room manned by helpful employees.
Yet on the first Monday in May—the annual date of the Met Gala—Vogue and event planner Raul Àvila like to make sure attendees are greeted by something a little different. Last year, for example, Àvila transformed it into (along with Shane Valentino) a structure resembling the Statue of Liberty’s iconic torch. In 2019, to celebrate the theme of camp, he created a 25-foot tall, flamboyant flamingo centerpiece comprised of 30,000 flowers. And this year, for the 2023 Met Gala honouring Karl Lagerfeld, he crafted a modern installation made of florals and thousands of recycled water bottles.
The concept originated from Tadao Ando, who also designed the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibit for the museum. Lagerfeld and the Pritzker Prize-winning architect enjoyed a working relationship as well as a friendship: in 1998, for example, Lagerfeld photographed Ando’s famous Vitra House. Knowing that the Chanel creative director was always looking ahead, Ando developed a futuristic design. “It’s a nod to Karl’s love of everything cutting edge,” Vogue’s contributing editor Eaddy Kiernan, one of the great planning minds behind the event, says.
The eco-friendly emphasis is an important detail. “Given today’s climate, we wanted to highlight the importance of giving our everyday items more than one life cycle,” Avila tells Vogue. “We wanted to find a way to create a sustainable design that would implement the bottles into a breathtaking installation unlike anything we’ve done before.” The water bottles, which also line the staircase leading up to the gallery, reflect the surrounding lights to make the entire design feel immersive.
Then, at the top of the stairs, guests are greeted by a set of ornate trompe-l’oeil panels by theater set designer Derek McLane, based on the real doors from Lagerfeld’s 18th-century apartment off of Rue de l’Université. (“It was a most polite century,” the designer once told Vogue of his enduring love for that era.) Why the contrast between historical design and the boldly new? “He had such a love of opulence and extravagance, but also minimalism,” says Kiernan. “We’re trying to give a nod to multiple sides of his passions.”
Swirling around the Great Hall carpets, meanwhile, are serpentine lines. Also known as “lines of beauty”—a theory by 18th-century painter William Hogarth suggesting S-curves signify liveliness and excitement—they’re a visual tie-in to the name of the exhibit itself.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.