Met Gala 2023: The Blurred Lines Of Beauty

There were, as usual, two extremes: decidedly dull and highly theatrical. And who needed Choupette when you had Jared Leto dressed as they? In the end, the men, with either too much fabric or virtually none, stole the show

Jeremy Pope did a Rihanna circa 2015, in Balmain. Screen shot: Vogue/YouTube

Rapper Lil Nas X wore mostly body paint. Photo: Getty Images

The Met Gala is dubbed the “Oscars of fashion”, but it’s more like the Razzies, only better attended. This year, just as you feared that it would be difficult to go over-the-top (or weird) channeling Chanel’s former long-serving designer’s work or his own style, quite a few invitees to this year’s Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, did not think too much would be excessive. Or, for that matter, too little. In fact, so averse to cloth he was that rapper Lil Nas X pranced on the carpet (beige with red and blue lines this time) practically naked. How only a thong (even if purportedly by Dior), an encrusted face (like calcareous growth on seashells), and a crazy amount of body paint (that took Pat McGrath reportedly nine hours to spread on him) is tribute to Mr Lagerfeld and his legacy was not immediately apparent. The designer was known for his way with working on fabrics, yet Lil Nas X preferred almost none. News that emerged after the flashy display quoted the Grammy winner saying that what he had on was a “modern version of a cat”. In platform boots?! As Tan Kel Wen of Berhati might declare, kutior kucing (cat couture)?

It is hard to say that Lil Nas X looked feline (the face—catfish, perhaps?) as he pretended to be, but he did illustrate that what you mostly saw at the Met Galas were the emperor’s new clothes, It was usually the female attendees who affirmed the idea (in fact, Lil Nas X’s look brought to mind Cara Delevingne’s at the Met last year, only she was painted gold and she wore pants), but this time, the guys were doing so with verve and daring. Reportedly, guests to the gala were earlier notified by the organisers that “the most authentic approach” was “to wear an archival look from one of the labels Lagerfeld led”. Naturally not all attendees had links or access to the houses—and their ateliers and archives—that the late designer helmed or consulted for. So it was through the interpretive flair of other names that some guests preferred to trust their personal brands to. Lil Nas X chose a make-up artist over a fashion designer. Was he at the right event? Or did he not care about some silly authentic approach? When, in fact, during Anna Wintour’s latter-year command of the Met Galas was authenticity key?

Lil Nas X’s non-attire might actually win Mr Lagerfeld’s approval, even when he did not value what a guy thought about fashion. As he told The New York Times in 2015, “I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couln’t care less about their opinions.” The late designer was famously known for his dislike of looking back at his own work, too. A get-up on the carpet that cannot be directly linked to any look by number of his past collections could be the unsentimental acknowledgment of his influence that he might have tolerated. Similarly, he was disdainful of retrospectives in formal institutions. As he said in 2004, “fashion does not belong in a museum”. Yet, it is in one—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—that his body of work is now shown and saluted. And, interpreted by the 400-plus attendees whose attitude, assessment, and assumption he probably did not care about either.

Feline Fanatics

Left: suited-up Jared Leto. Right: Doja Cat in Oscar de la Renta. Photos: Reuters

Choupette, Mr Lagerfeld’s Birman cat, was not as absent as many had thought. Although they did not attend, Jared Leto—appearing in their likeness—sure did. Mr Leto took to the beige carpet as a plush pussy, complete with a feline head and a set of paws (but standing on two), making Lil Nas X’s kitty make-up a poor imitation, however “modern” it was. Perhaps Mr Leto thought he was on the set of The Masked Singer? The Choupette-lookalike quickly shed the hairy outerwear to complete his ascend on the stairway, in what appeared to be a Gucci ensemble that included a cape with glittery shoulders. Even Doja Cat, wearing Oscar de la Renta, came in her namesake, anthropomorphically-enhanced self, forgetting that the casting for Cats the movie is well over. Choupette may be the cat everyone was looking out for, but another pet was there too: Thom Browne’s Hector.

Camellia Overload

Left: Rihanna (with Gucci-clad partner A$AP Rocky) in Valentino. Right: Cardi B in Chenpeng Studio. Photos: Getty Images

She was not only the last to arrive, but even possibly the tardiest attendee at a Met Gala. Rihanna was touted all evening as a show-stopper. But even the Vogue livestream would not wait for her. Hosts La La Anthony, Chloé Fineman, and Derek Blasberg kept the last moments going with painful small talk, and telling the audience that a “surprise” was in store. After more than 20 minutes, the amazing astonishment was not to be. Ms Anthony had to say apologetically, “we tried and tried but sometimes things don’t work out as we expected”, wrapping up the livestream. When Rihanna did show up (reportedly two hours late), it was after the hosts retired for the night from the carpet (we can hear many saying that a pregnant woman needed more time to get ready, but she was not the only expecting mother on the guest list). However, the photographers—and fans did not give up waiting (some members of the media later call it “worth the wait”, encouraging such insolent behaviour). To audible screams from across the street and calls from the onsite lens men, she appeared in a Valentino hooded cape that was festooned with oversized camellias. Hardly a surprising outfit. She won’t marry A$AP Rocky (in Gucci this evening) but she showed up as a bride? Cardi B was festooned too, squeezing as many Chanel/Lagerfeld ‘codes’ as she could in one gown: a rigid collage by the Chinese label Chenpeng Studio, with white shirt, camellia, pearl studs, and, of course, the quilting of the classic Chanel bag. A walking visual encyclopedia?

Pearls Aplenty

Left to right: Lizzo in Chanel, Kim Kardashian in Schiaparelli, and Yung Miami in Sean Jean

Pearls, the Chanel way, were expected, and it showed up in massive miles of them. The gold chain through which a leather cord is usually laced through (as is used in Chanel bags) had, conversely, an extremely low take-up rate. Kim Kardashian’s Schiaparelli sort-of-dress had the most use of pearls—some 50 strands for the skirt and 20 for the top. Could this be a revenge dressing of sort after last year’s simple, constricted Marilyn Monroe gown that no one loved on her? Lizzo, in a black Chanel, had her torso visually lengthened with strands of pearls, but they looked regrettably like an afterthought. Rapper Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee was strung with pearls as well. Wearing a number by the old label Sean Jean, created by her date Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs (their relationship not established), she had her face framed by a black fur bloom, under which those pearls hung, like aerial roots. Serena Williams and Karlie Kloss, both pregnant, were also adorned with pearl, no doubt pointing the way forward for special-occasion maternity wear.

Fan Fanfare

Left to right: Carla Bruni in Chanel, Jordan Roth in Schiaparelli, and Conan Gray in Balmain. Photos: Getty Images

Some attendees had to incorporate a fan—Mr Karl Lagerfeld’s signature accessory—into their looks. Occasional songstress Carla Bruni, unsurprising in Chanel, whipped out a foldable one to improve her placid look and to show what a true friend she was to Mr Lagerfeld. American singer-songwriter Conan Gray, also wielding a fan, chose a black-and-white, half-circle piece that carefully coordinated with their jacket-attached-to-a-shirt Balmain number. But it was theatre impresario Jordan Roth, glammed up in Schiaparelli couture, that came as one. To be sure, Amber Valletta in Karl Lagerfeld, too, had a fan for a bodice, but it was Jordan Roth who showed the world that there is indeed a fine line between glamorous and not.

Brides Not

From left to right: Penelope Cruz and Gisele Bündchen, both in Chanel, and Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld. Photos: Getty Images

There was continual reminder that Chanel is a bridal house even before the night’s event. So it was not surprising that there were those who came as brides—but without a groom. Penelope Cruz and Giselle Gisele Bündchen were veritable Chanel bridal mannequins, but looked like they wore the gown of the bridesmaid instead. Elle Fanning, in Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, dressed literally as a bride—who ran away. Halle Bailey looked swamped in Gucci froth. And Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld? Frankenstein’s bride? But that was not as strange as the Marni-dressed Erykah Badu who came as a mop on her wedding day. Alexa Chung, pretending it was hers too, looked rather exquisite in Irish designer Roisin Pierce’s delicately-textured two-piece, like an Amish bride in fancy dress.

Man Trains

Bad Bunny in Jacquemus. Photo: Getty Images

As we have seen with fans, the train, too, was guys’ best friend. Stage actor and TV series Pose alum, Jeremy Pope (top photo) went to great lengths to show fashion watchers what he dragged behind—all 10 metres of it. The Balmain train was composed of ruffed tulle clusters, arranged by shade to form the familiar silhouette of Karl Lagerfeld. This could easily be the train to beat Rihanna’s Guo Pie “omelette” in 2015. Quite a few other male guests had their get-ups affixed with trains too, but it was Bad Bunny, in white and cream Jacquemus (including a blazer with a cut-out at the back) and that stole, who showed that guys can have something pretty trailing them that is not a personal assistant.


Left to right: Michelle Yeoh in Karl Lagerfeld, Serena Williams in Gucci and Kristen Stewart in Chanel. Photos: Getty Images

Black and white, we were repeatedly told, was Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite chromatic pairing. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Met Gala was practically an ebony-and-ivory affair. Michelle Yeoh, in Karl Lagerfeld, was in her post-award-season party look. While she could be channeling a modern-day Mameha (2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha), except that it seemed like the dress swallowed her, as Matsumoto would have. Ms Yeoh was among only a handful who chose the designer’s eponymous line, one that never quite achieved any height. Serena Williams picked the more dependable Gucci, but to her own detriment: the unflattering mermaid’s tail spread out from a shorter top dress with that decorative hem was, sad to say, dowdy. Kristen Stewart, ever the young face of Chanel, wore something not quite typical of the house. The bolero and the baggy pants had a whiff of a samseng (gangster) trading up.

Same Same

Left and right: Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang, both in similar Chloé dresses

It is not known if this has happened at a Met Gala: two guests outfitted in near-identical gowns. Actress Olivia Wilde and Vogue China editor-in-chief Margaret Zhang (章凝 or Zhangning) were spotted (hopefully not together) in geminated dresses from Chloé, now designed by Gabriela Hearst. Ms Zhang’s black frock appeared to be a negative likeness (especially with her shock of electric blue hair) of Ms Wilde’s slimmer version. The sleeveless piece with a high neck, circa 1983 and dubbed “the violin dress”, was reissued thirty years later, in 2013; it was one of Chloé’s most popular and identifiable designs. The question that won’t leave our mind: Was Chloé not aware, at the time of both fittings, that the two dresses would be worn at the same event, on the same day? Or, was this deliberate twinning to give Chloé twice the exposure?

Burberry Blue

Left to right: Burna Boy, Skepta, and Mary J Blige and Barry Keoghan, all in Burberry

Bigger a mystery than the two Chloé dresses Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang wore was the Burberry outfits on on a quartet—Nigerian singer Burna Boy, British-Nigerian MC/rapper Skepta, American singer Mary J Blige, and the Irish actor Barry Keoghan. Sure, they do not look alike, except Burna Boy’s and Mr Keoghan’s diagonal-checked suits, but it is not clear why all four of them (actually, there was Stormzy, too) were given identical chromatic combos of black and that particular shade of blue. Did Burberry think that there was power—and presence—by numbers?


Janelle Monae in Thom Browne. Photos: Getty Images

Janelle Monae is often willing to gamble with fashion on the red (or any colour) carpet. This year at the Met Gala, she chose a Thom Browne coat that appeared to be inspired by a Chanel jacket deconstructed and stretched over a teepee. The hulky outer came off at some point on the beige carpet, revealing another look—a sheer crinoline dress that served as a cage to house the wearer in a bikini (it is not known if she was able to sit in the conical coop). Later, on the steps, she lifted up the dress to let onlookers have a clearer view of her underpants. Ms Monae, like Lil Nas X, happily offered an emperor’s new clothes moment—always the high point of the Met Gala.