Celebs. Style. A surprise proposal! Stories of the 2022 Met Gala
Despite conspicuous absences and some confusing interpretations of the theme, there were plenty of memorable moments at the 2022 Met Gala.
The Met Gala’s theme may have been “gilded glamour” but Black history, Black design and Black love all made their appearances on the steps of the Met Museum on Monday night. And though we’ve recapped most of the Black excellence that appeared on the gala’s red, white and blue carpet with their interpretations of “America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” there are a few stories you may have missed.
For starters, one of the biggest stories of the night was the surprise proposal to Laurie Cumbo, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and founder of Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. Amid the hubbub of the arrivals, her partner, entrepreneur, youth mentor and former New York State Assembly candidate Bobby Digi Olisa, with whom Cumbo shares a young son, dropped to one knee to present his love a solitaire in a very recognizable blue box.
“I decided at 1 pm Monday afternoon that it was time to propose to the woman that I love and the mother of our 4-year-old son,” Olisa told theGrio in the days following the event. “[B]ecause there was so much preparation to be at the Met Gala, I thought, what the heck; it’s a good night and place to propose, never really thinking it would be viral—but in fact, Black Love and Black excellence is a revolution and should be celebrated widely.”
Olisa also confirmed that in the days following the gala, he has received messages from around the world proclaiming the proposal “the most exciting event at the Gala,” for which “I thank God my wife and are ready to take on the world together in LOVE!” he added.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen tonight,” Cumbo gushed to Entertainment Tonight, sharing that she’d once been a teenage intern at the museum. “We’ve been talking about it. We’ve been through so much and this is such an honor and this is such a blessing.”
It was indeed a blessed moment, but not the first Met Gala proposal we’ve seen. In 2018, rapper 2 Chainz proposed to his longtime love, Kesha Ward. (It’s also worth noting a certain orange-hued mogul-turned-president proposed to his Slovenian model girlfriend at the 2004 Met Gala.)
Cumbo’s boss, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, was also on the Met’s carpet alongside girlfriend Tracey Collins. While reviews remain mixed on the moves of the recently elected mayor, Adams conveyed a clear message with his upcycled tailcoat (his own), which was customized by New York City-based Nigerian artist Láolú Senbanjo. Along with New York-inspired designs on the lapels and cuffs, the coat included a panel emblazoned with the phrase “End Gun Violence” on the back.
Celeb couple Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz also brought their mutual love of New York to the Met Gala carpet in epic style; tapping the quintessentially American designer Ralph Lauren to give their gala ensembles an “Empire State of Mind.”
“Drawing inspiration from America’s Gilded Age and its influence on New York City, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz’s looks celebrate the beauty, passion, and vibrancy of their hometown,” wrote the label in an Instagram post which also explained the elaborate construction process.
Alicia’s duchess satin cape—worn atop a sequined column gown—unveils the cinematic New York skyline through precise craftsmanship, created with more than 200,000 crystal stones. Whilst Swizz pays homage to his home city in our New York Yankees™ jacket and New Era cap, worn with a #RLPurpleLabel handmade cream dinner jacket in silk shantung and black wool tuxedo trouser—finished with #RalphLauren’s black steel #RLStirrup watch and an antique stud set completing the look.Credit: Instagram (Ralph Lauren)
Amid all the big arrivals, there were some conspicuous absences. Rihanna was understandably absent from the Met Gala, but the 2018 co-chair’s presence was certainly felt. The megastar’s March 2022 cover for Vogue was immortalized by the magazine in a digitized gala promo that placed Rih’s pregnant silhouette among the Met’s marble statuary. The expectant mother’s response?
“[S]hut down the met in marble! what’s more gilded than that? Lol! Thank you [Met museum] and [Vogue magazine] for this historic tribute! y’all bad for this one!”
Notably, event co-chair Regina King was also absent from the red carpet this year, which would have been her first event appearance following the tragic death of her son, Ian Alexander Jr., in January. Nevertheless, King’s influence was still felt in the accompanying Costume Institute exhibition, where the actress-director curated a room alongside filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Julie Dash.
As reported by USA Today:
For King, the Richmond Room, depicting early 19th-century domestic life for wealthy Virginians, provided a chance to highlight Black designer Fannie Criss Payne, who was born in the late 1860s to formerly enslaved parents and became a top local dressmaker. She was known for stitching a name tape into her garments to “sign” her work — part of an emerging sense of clothes-making as a creative endeavor.
King says she was looking “to portray the power and strength Fannie Criss Payne exudes through her awe-inspiring story and exquisite clothing,” placing her in a prosperous working situation — and proudly wearing her own design — fitting a client, and employing another Black woman as a seamstress.Credit: USA Today
Sarah Jessica Parker’s extravagant checked ballgown was also surprisingly inspired by Black history. Not only was the gown designed by Christopher John Rogers, but it also paid homage to another Black designer, the formerly enslaved activist-author Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, the dressmaker for former first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Rogers explained the design’s inspiration on Instagram, writing:
SJP wears a contoured, patch-worked bodice and pleated ball skirt in shades of Black, Charcoal, Elephant and Ivory silk faille and silk moiré with @Swarovski crystal buttons, silk moiré bows, and custom @PhilipTreacy headpiece.
This look was inspired by an 1860’s ensemble by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley — a prominent designer, seamstress, author, philanthropist and social activist active during the Gilded Age.Credit: Instagram (Christopher John Rogers)
Rogers is also among several Black designers who partnered with The Met Store on limited-edition apparel and accessories celebrating the exhibition. Pyer Moss founder Kerby Jean-Raymond and Brother Vellies’ Aurora James (who designed AOC’s statement-making Met Gala gown last fall), also have designs in the collection. All were on the red carpet, along with fellow designers LaQuan Smith (who dressed LaLa Anthony) and Victor Glemaud. No doubt Virgil Abloh was there in spirit, as several celebs wore Off-White to the first Met Gala since the designer’s death last November.
Designer-activist Glemaud notably used the moment to pay homage to another fashion icon. Just days after André Leon Talley’s Manhattan memorial service, he was given his own sartorial nod at the Met Gala as Glemaud donned an H&M-designed ivory silk taffeta opera coat and tux in honor of ALT’s larger-than-life presence.
“When you think of the theme and you think of ‘gilded glamour’ and you think of André, it’s all one and the same,” Glemaud told Fashionista, adding: “I hope [people] recognize that the legacy of André and the Met is bigger than this moment and that we continue to celebrate him.”
Updated: Thursday, May 5 at 10:40 a.m., ET: Following the Met Gala, we received a statement from Bobby Digi Olisa about his viral proposal to Laurie Cumbo, which we have added to our coverage. Congratulations to the happy couple!
Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).
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