How a Billionaire Salmon Heir Became Met Gala Fairy King

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and Public Domain
Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and Public Domain

Sure, there were lots of models at the Met Gala. And yeah, there were even a few billionaires too. But there was only one man who, in addition to being both model and a billionaire, has also spent years of his life working on a salmon farm: Gustav Magnar Witzøe.

The 31-year-old Norwegian set social media alight with his standout sartorial display in a nude-hued, iridescent Versace outfit. What’s especially wild about Witzøe stealing the show on the biggest night in fashion, though, is that for him, being a globe-trotting model is something roughly akin to an astonishingly swanky side gig.

This Norwegian Billionaire Salmon Heir Won the Met Gala

That’s because his wealth comes from SalMar, the salmon farming giant his father started in the early 1990s, which is now among the largest salmon producers on the planet. As a result of the chunk of the business that Witzøe’s father gifted him, his personal fortune now stands at around $4 billion, according to Forbes.

Gustav Magnar Witzoe arrives for the 2024 Met Gala on May 6, 2024, in New York.

Gustav Magnar Witzøe arrives at the 2024 Met Gala on May 6, 2024, in New York.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Yet despite being among the youngest billionaires in the world, he was one of the less well-known faces at the Met Gala. It was partly that relative anonymity that fueled the clamor to find out about the man who’d made such a splash. “It was pretty funny when all the articles were like ‘the random Norwegian guy,’ ‘the salmon king,’ the day after,” Witzøe tells The Daily Beast from Frøya, the tiny island where he grew up off the coast of mainland Norway.

He swears that his pink-colored, shimmering outfit with a coral-like headband was not, in fact, intended to have a salmony subtext. “I didn’t think about it,” he says. “That would make me more nervous if I realized it was a salmon color!”

The theme for the 2024 event was “The Garden of Time,” taken from a J.G. Ballard short story of the same name. But Witzøe’s outfit was actually inspired by a different literary source. “The inspiration was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and the king of fairies, which is Oberon—which is a pretty cool inspiration,” Witzøe tells The Daily Beast.

More specifically, the Atelier Versace team that put the mythical look together wanted to faithfully capture the version of Oberon in the paintings of the 19th-century Scottish painter Joseph Noel Paton, a representative for the fashion brand told Paper. To do so, they spent over four months painstakingly fastening 53,000 crystals to a tulle bodysuit which was then coupled with a chiffon tunic and a silk cape.

Sir Joseph Noel Paton's The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, which inspired Witzoe's outift.

Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, which inspired Witzøe’s outift.

Public Domain

“I was kind of scared when they first talked about doing it because it’s quite a look and it’s quite an inspiration to go after,” Witzøe says. “I think it’s the craziest and most detailed and most beautiful look I’ve ever done.”

“The preparations to get in the costume or the dress was obviously also pretty time-consuming because they wanted to get rid of my tattoos,” he adds. (Witzøe shared a video on his Instagram account showing the laborious process of the designs on his arms and torso being covered up by a retinue of assistants wielding brushes and spray guns.) The result, Witzøe says, was a little uncanny. “I haven’t seen myself without tattoos since I was 16 years old,” he says. “I had to take a photo of it to send to my mom because she’s never been that much of a fan of my tattoos.”

Being transfigured into the physical embodiment of an oil painting fairy king, it turns out, does create certain challenges when you actually have to move around in the real world. “You get a lot of help going up the stairs of course, but after the stairs they kind of let you go,” Witzøe says, referring to the entrance of the Met Gala which presents the stars wearing lavishly impractical outfits with an infamous test of mobility. “Walking around, I tried maybe the first couple of meters to drag it after me—but that did not work. So I kind of had to lift it up and carry it over my arm.”

Witzøe says he was excited to enter the museum to see the Costume Institute’s exhibition, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” “When you get it into the museum, it’s longer than I thought, walking around with a cape on my arm. My arm was totally dead for three days after!” he laughs.

Gustav Magnar Witzøe at The Mark Hotel before the 2024 Met Gala: "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion"  on May 6, 2024 in New York, New York.

Gustav Magnar Witzøe at The Mark Hotel before the 2024 Met Gala: "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" on May 6, 2024 in New York, New York.

Kristina Bumphrey/WWD via Getty Images

Since leaving behind the glamour of the Met Gala, where he sat next to Willow Smith at the dinner (“She seemed like a really nice person, we had some fun”), Witzøe has spent time with his family back home. “It’s a long way from Manhattan to Frøya, I assure you,” Witzøe says.

It was there on the island that, after finishing high school, he spent two years working on the salmon farms that now underpin his fabulous riches. “I think it was honestly really, really great,” he says of the work—a view which presumably would not be shared by all of his peers in the fashion elite. “You get to be outside all day. There’s different tasks, like no day is the same as the other one. You get to experience really nice weather, really bad weather. You get to work with various intelligent people.”

Not everyone has such a positive view of the industry, however, even in Nordic countries. In November, Icelandic singer Björk criticized Witzøe’s father’s company when announcing that the profits from a collaboration single with Rosalía would go to opposing salmon farming in open net pens in Iceland—a practice she called “horrid for the environment” and bringing “immense suffering” to fish. (SalMar says it has “both climate-friendly operations and ambitious climate goals” and highlights its work developing “initiatives and procedures to improve fish welfare” on its website. The Daily Beast has contacted the company for comment.)

“I’m not going to say too much about it,” Witzøe says of the criticisms. “Salmon farming is one of the most effective ways to produce food that we have. But of course all food production in large scales is going to have some problems, and I know that SalMar is working very hard, and I know the whole aquaculture industry is working very hard to do better on those problems.”

While Witzøe is not involved in running SalMar, he’s the main shareholder of the holding company, Kvarv AS, which owns it. His personal business interests have been more focused on investing, co-founding Wiski Capital in 2017. The firm has pumped cash into Norwegian tech startups, including one which uses cellphones and artificial intelligence to identify the location of gunshots and another which teaches livestock to stay in certain areas with special collars that deliver audio warnings to the animals wearing them.

Most of his time in the next few years, though, will be spent on the W Initiative—his humanitarian foundation to support projects designed to improve the lives of children and young people. It recently gave funding to GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that puts cash directly into the hands of people living in extreme poverty who can then decide for themselves how to spend the money.

Despite his many ventures, Witzøe says he is “far from the busiest man in the world.” Which is just as well, as he’ll probably need a decent amount of time to figure out an answer to the question of how the hell he’ll improve on his performance at the Met Gala in 2025.

“Luckily I have an amazing team which is full of creative ideas,” he says. “I’m very happy about the whole team that came with me to New York and of course to Versace who did such an amazing job. I think we can do something really cool next year too.”

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