Getting on the guest list at the Met gala is notoriously difficult, and yet Naomi Campbell has received multiple invitations over the past 30 years. A fashion fixture since the late ’80s, the 49-year-old supermodel brings glamour wherever she goes, and her trips to the Met are particularly special. She was the first to wear many of the runway pieces that wind up on display in the museum. She understands what gives a style moment resonance, having delivered just that each year she attends the event. Whether she’s interpreting the theme or ignoring it completely, she enjoys going the extra mile and has since the very beginning. A guest of Gianni Versace for her Met debut in 1990, Naomi Campbell MET Gala look was gleefully over the top in a sequined mini dress from the designer’s spring 1991 collection. “You dressed up in the ’90s!” shares Campbell from her New York home where she’s self-isolating. “It didn’t matter if you were just going to dinner—enjoy your clothes, enjoy your accessories, enjoy your hair!”
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Those ideals reflect in Campbell’s choices; joie de vivre and genuine love of fashion serve as the common thread between outfits that differ wildly. The 1995 Versace Haute Couture column gown—one of the gala’s all-time greatest—and the fringed Dolce & Gabbana flamenco look she wore in 2003 might not have much in common, but she wore them with the same exuberance. Tributes to her favorite designers—Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, and Tunisian-born master Azzedine Alaïa, who she lovingly refers to as “papa”—also have special significance. “Seeing this dress now in museums in Alaïa exhibitions around the world is very sentimental and nostalgic for me because we grew so close,” she says of the exquisite black velvet and metal number she wore for the 2017 retrospective of Alaïa’s close friend, Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo. “I was like his daughter, and he was like my father. I’m so happy that I got to wear it and make him proud.”
Of course, half the fun of the Met gala lies in the party itself, and Campbell considers 2019’s camp-focused bash the most exciting yet. At the table of former Apple chief design officer Jony Ive, Campbell went for high drama in a pastel Valentino that came together just days before the big event. “The word camp you can go in so many directions; up, down, across, and that’s exactly how it went down,” she says. “Here comes Saturday and I go up to the Valentino store to do my fitting. I try on my dress but there was something [off] there was too much fabric, so Pierpaolo [Piccioli] came and he started the outfit from scratch.” The extra effort was worth it and the second Campbell stepped onto the carpet with Piccioli and Dame Joan Collins another legendary moment was made.
Here, the supermodel shares the stories behind 30 years of Met gala looks, from the outfits that almost were to the subtle styling changes she’d make if she were to wear those show-stopping clothes again.