It's widely believed that the fashion elite ooze a certain black-clad confidence, gliding from glitz party to glam runway with an air of salty nonchalance while barking (or texting) unreasonable demands at cowering underlings.

OK. Some of that is true.

But in The First Monday in May, a documentary that follows the yearlong planning for the swank annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit, industry titans take a few knock'em-down-a-peg hits. As it turns out, even marquee names like Anna Wintour get frazzled under deadline pressure.

Vogue editor Wintour has chaired the Met Gala, as the party is known, since 1995, and since she has taken over, each gala has been more star-studded than the last. Her party, which serves as the launch to the Met's annual months-long costume exhibit - "China: Through the Looking Glass," in this case - is considered the most important event on New York's social circuit.

A-listers from the Kardashian/Jenners (and their bro-beaus of the moment), Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kerry Washington walk the same red carpet as the world's top designers - Tory Burch, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gucci's Riccardo Tisci, and, yes, Kanye West (all seen in the movie). It has usurped the Academy Awards as the Super Bowl of the fashion industry.

First Monday director Andrew Rossi (Page One, Ivory Tower) introduces the movie's central question right off: Can fashion really be considered art in this space where paintings, sculpture, and pottery are revered? In the haughty museum world, fashion must always prove itself. The costume department is tucked into the museum's basement.

From there, we meet the Costume Institute's bespectacled English curator, Andrew Bolton. Bolton curated the Met's homage to the late Alexander McQueen, "Savage Beauty," the yardstick against which all of his subsequent shows have been measured. He comes across here as a chap concerned about presenting the sartorial history of China in a nonstereotypical way.

We see him travel to China with his long-term boyfriend, the Allentown-bred menswear designer Thom Browne. We see him fuss with one particularly resplendent dress, leaving us to imagine the attention Bolton must have paid to the 150,000 articles in "Through the Looking Glass." And we listen in on some important, if slightly boring, discussions about how American and Chinese pop culture intersect.

Rossi gives us a terser Wintour than director R.J. Cutler did in 2009's The September Issue. It's left to director Baz Luhrmann, one of the documentary's talking heads, to explain that Wintour understands at her very core how pop culture serves to elevate art so it's palatable to the masses.

Don't come to this movie expecting a lot of Project Runway drama and unreasonable personalities. It's very inside baseball about the inner workings of a fashion event. That said, there's a delicious depiction of fashion as fantasy that's worth the price of admission.

There is also some fun backstage anxiety in The First Monday in May over where to place H&M's table and how to get Rihanna, who performed for the gala, to cut back her entourage. We are left to assume Anna handled that.


The First Monday in May
Directed by Andrew Rossi. With Andrew Bolton, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Baz Luhrmann, Rihanna, Anna Wintour. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 min.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (for brief strong language).
Playing at: Ritz V.