Meet the Met Photographer Whose Colorful Dress Went Unexpectedly Viral

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Photographer Hunter Abrams wears a Willie Norris x Outlier dress to the Met Gala.Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Normally, photographers blend into the background at the Met Gala, careful not to step on the tulle of celebrities as they step onto the red carpet. But this year, one photographer held their own among the celebs and went viral in the process. On-screen, amid the celebrities like Billie Eilish and Keke Palmer, Vogue photographer Hunter Abrams and their Willie Norris dress stuck out like a sore—wait, a chic—thumb.

With a silhouette like an elongated T-shirt and swirls of blue, purple, and green, it was a technicolor dream dress. And it wasn’t long until social media took notice. In a picture of Eilish perfecting her best Marilyn Monroe pose, there was Abrams, armed with two cameras, freshly dyed red hair, a Bienen Davis purse that read “4all”, their father’s gold chain, and a pair of Nike sneakers. Twitter user @marynmck took note and wrote the following: “Of course, Billie is amazing, but truly the night belongs to Caftan Photog whoever they are #MetGala.” And while Keke Palmer was hosting interviews, there was that “Caftan Photog” again. “Ok so who is this photographer behind Keke Palmer at the Met Gala because they are SERVING LOOKS,” wrote the Twitter user @alina_snis. Just like that, Abrams had their Cinderella moment.

Norris and Abrams. Photo: Courtesy of Hunter Abrams

The dress has an equally magical background story. It was created by the designer Willie Norris in a collaboration with Outlier, a menswear company of which she is the design director (she also has her own line, Willie Norris Workshop). Abrams has long been friends with Norris and a fan of her pieces, which include T-shirts with phrases that read “Promote Homosexuality” and “Incite Queerness.” Norris also designed Abrams’s 2019 Met pre-party look, a suit that had Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” printed on it. For Abrams, wearing a piece by Norris for this year’s gala was a no-brainer. “I knew I wanted to wear a dress and I knew I wanted to wear something by Willie,” says Abrams. “I wear a Willie t-shirt every day of my life.”

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As a reference, Abrams sent Norris an image of Tilda Swinton accepting an Oscar in 2008 wearing what they described as “this big Lanvin sack”. Then, Norris mulled over the theme, “In America.” “I was like, ‘I’m an American designer,’” Norris told Vogue over the phone. “I should do something that was deeply centered in craft.” She then enlisted her friend, the marbling artist Sheryl Oppenheim, to dye roughly 15 scarves. Oppenheim worked for 35 hours over the weekend to hand-dye each scarf, which Norris then hand-stitched together. “There is not one machine stitch,” she notes, as a nod to craftsmanship.

Abrams in Norris’s dress and mask. Photo: Courtesy of Hunter Abrams

The night of, Abrams didn’t anticipate the commotion around the dress. “I didn’t think anyone would care enough to pay this much attention to what I was wearing, especially since I was working,” explained Abrams. “I’m not a celebrity, so I was really caught off guard.” As for Norris? She had an inkling that it would turn heads. “I kind of knew that would happen, to be real. The dress was really beautiful. It’s elegant, it’s a little understated. Just that image of seeing Billie Eilish taking up the entire Met stairs with Hunter in the background…it’s kind of funny how much more Hunter stands out,” says Norris. “It’s such a beautiful composition. When I saw that I was like, ‘work.’”

Viral or otherwise, Abrams had a tender reason for wearing the dress. “I feel like she [Norris] deserves a place in the Met,” says Abrams. “And I told her, ‘I’m going to wear you to the Met until you’re in the Met.”

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