Things were different when Ted Resnick first got the job. In the beginning, doing the carpet for the Met Gala meant placing treads on the museum’s iconic staircase to steady the tottering celebrities. “I remember doing it in red,” he says. That eventually turned into laying down a full carpet. Then the event planners got the idea to paint it. Resnick, an owner of New Jersey’s Flemington Department Store who has been sourcing and installing the gala’s carpet for nearly two decades, was skeptical. “Here’s the problem with the job — not that the job’s a problem,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a constant battle of what you can and can’t do.”
Resnick figured it out. He was used to working with stain-resistant carpets, but if the paint was going to hold, the material needed to be flat and absorbent. So he started sourcing woven sisal — a staggering amount of it. “It absorbs,” he says. He keeps it with him in Jersey until it’s ready to be painted. Phillip Bland, a decorative artist on Long Island who came into the job seven years ago after working with Anna Wintour on her various homes, does the painting. “I work with decorators,” Bland says. “They ask me, Can you do this? And I find a way of doing it.” Every year, the process starts over: new sisal, new design.
The carpet is a collaborative effort with Raúl Àvila, the designer behind the gala’s décor, in what amounts to an annual puzzle. The planning takes months; the installation, days. The final piece — the Met’s steps, where Kim Kardashian as Marilyn Monroe gently toddled on Monday night — happens on the day of the event, starting around 3 a.m. “When it’s over, I love the job,” Resnick says.
Not until relatively recently did the Met Gala become a true red-carpet event. It started in the 1940s, when it was much more a New York society evening. After her stint as the editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland became the director of the Met’s Costume Institute in 1972 and turned the ball into a fashion party. (She also introduced the themes that connect each gala to an exhibit, starting with “The World of Balenciaga” in 1973.) When Wintour took over in 1995, guests arrived on the same gum-stained steps as we do, their stilettos and silk dresses snagging on the granite. (God knows what Nicole Kidman’s sequined 2003 Tom Ford for Gucci dress might have collected as she walked.) It stayed that way until the mid-aughts, when someone finally made the call to carpet the entrance with small red stair treads.
It’s a big job, and people in the industry know it. “After I did the Met one year, I went to the Cannes Film Festival. I was meeting with people there who do the red carpet; we were having a little conference,” Resnick says. “So I mention, ‘I just did the Met Gala.’ The whole conversation changed to the Met Gala. And then I felt bad because all the attention was on me.”
The gala has gotten only more extravagant over the years, becoming a bigger pop-culture spectacle. The carpet leveled up too, starting with 2016’s “Manus x Machina” theme, which featured a cream rug with red and pink color-blocking. Bland is among the first people to know the event’s annual theme. “I’ve got to keep everything quiet,” he says. “I’m not too big on revealing any secrets.”
The conversation about design starts around November or December, when Bland is given a sense of what Àvila and his team want. He sends a couple of samples; when those are approved, he uses a friend’s furniture warehouse to do the painting. “Some years, I’m working with stencils,” he says. “Some years, I’m working large swaths of the carpet with sprayers.” Every year is different.
Bland doesn’t follow fashion that closely, but he understands the pressure of the event. “My hope is when the final design comes out, it doesn’t clash too much,” he says of the stars walking the carpet. “If someone spent all this money on this beautiful dress and all of a sudden they get out there — I’m sure they don’t know what the carpet is gonna look like.”
In 2017, Rihanna’s voluminous Rei Kawakubo dress, which looked like petals of red, blue, and floral-print fabrics scrunched together, appeared in sharp relief against that year’s minimalist white rug with cobalt-blue borders. The carpet acted like a frame. In 2018, in service to the Met’s “Heavenly Bodies” theme, the carpet looked as if it could have been yanked from a cathedral; it was cream-colored, with a red floral border and gray cutout patterns on the steps. The following year’s rug was Pepto pink for the “Camp” theme, which gave us one of the more memorable Met Gala moments: Lady Gaga making four costume changes before striking boudoir poses on the stairs.
This year, Bland finished painting the carpet — a textured red, white, and blue — on Friday. “All the stress comes right before,” he says. Next, it went back to Jersey where Resnick held on to it in a locked truck until the install. “I had a dream the other night that we threw it out,” he says. “I woke up in a cold sweat. I thought, This will make the national news!”