Forget the Met, Melbourne lives out its own fashion fantasy for Dior gala


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Forget about the commentators. When you bill your own event as the Melbourne version of the global standard, you’re setting yourself up for a pretty big fall if you fail to deliver.

Thankfully for National Gallery of Victoria director Tony Ellwood and his team, the black-tie Dior gala, a fundraiser to celebrate the opening of the Dior retrospective, lived up to most of its own hype.

Nicole Kidman surprises at NGV Gala

Big name stars turn out for the inaugural NGV fashion fundraiser.

For days if not weeks leading up to Saturday’s event, which included a sit-down dinner for 400 VIPs and a cocktail soiree for 1000 more, the gallery itself was touting comparisons to New York’s Met Gala, the annual celeb-fest held each May under the watchful eye (and iron fist) of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour​.

Having seen the documentary First Monday in May about the New York event, I was curious to see whether the same level of detail – and politics – went into planning Melbourne’s inaugural attempt at a black-tie arts fundraiser of this scale, especially one where the public could buy tickets: $500 for the cocktail party and $2000 a plate for dinner.

The red carpet was a relaxed affair – far more so than the Logies or even the Brownlow, which one media and sport heavyweight observed at Saturday’s party had become an over-commercialised sponsor-fest. This, he said, was like one of the great Melbourne events of old.

Sure, there were the department store links and a shopping centre’s own TV “channel” taking up a decent whack of red carpet real estate, but the event still felt for the people, by the people.

As the celebrities were funnelled down one side of the red carpet, the real excitement was happening on the “commoner” side, where people had spent weeks, if not longer, preparing their outfits down the last detail.

And herein lay the magic of Saturday’s event. Forget the sometimes curious food (a nasturtium leaf makes a fiddly canape base), the momentary lulls in proceedings or the difficulty in finding the so-called “secret bars” that were promised (I finally learnt the location of one only after I was tucked up in bed). Melbourne got dressed up in the name of fashion, the arts and the love of this city.

From women who had scoured op shops and online to find the perfect piece of vintage Dior, to men bedecked in top hats and tails, to people who took the Met Gala brief quite literally and came more in costume than fashion, the event was a celebration of individuality and risk taking.

When so many red carpet events have become boring lists of name-checked brands, Melburnians who shelled out for last night’s event were determined to make a statement, in a place where it was entirely safe to do so.

Even some of the celebrities got in on the action. Bec Judd did a gothic Beauty and the Beast creation by J’Aton that needed its own moving van, while stylist Lana Wilkinson exchanged her usual structured looks for a floaty gown by Sonia Cappellazzo​. 

Whether the fervour and hype of the inaugural gala will be repeated next year will be an unknown until tickets go on sale. In all likelihood next year’s event will be smaller. But that’s then, this is now. For one night, Melbourne fulfilled its wildest fashion fantasy. And gee, it was marvellous.

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