In 2017, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute presented its monographic exhibition on Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, celebrities notoriously struggled to interpret the theme on the red carpet during the institution’s signature fundraising soirée, the Met Gala. Many attendees wholly ignored the Comme des Garçons founder’s avant-garde vision in favour of sultry gowns with classic silhouettes. Given that the subject of this year’s exhibition and gala is Karl Lagerfeld, however, adhering to theme would be a very different story.
With his crisp suits and ties, sunglasses, fingerless gloves and white ponytail, the late German designer was arguably even more recognisable than his showstopping creations for Chanel, Fendi, Chloé and his eponymous brand, all of which are celebrated across around 200 objects in Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty (5 May-16 July). Although many have questioned the Met’s decision to showcase the work of a man who made numerous problematic comments on race, religion and body type—and whose family’s connections to the German Nazi party came more fully to light posthumously—A-listers had nothing but praise for Lagerfeld, which they continually gushed on Vogue’s Met Gala livestream from the red carpet.
While last year’s “Gilded Glamour” theme was inherently tied to money and class, resulting in political fashion statements on the red carpet, this year’s soirée felt like a decidedly lighter homage to a sartorial genius whose fashions remained highly coveted for more than half a century. Much like the exhibition Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, which is largely structured around the dichotomies present in Lagerfeld’s designs—masculine versus feminine, historical versus futuristic, etc.—celebrities generally dressed either in romantic, intricately embroidered frocks that conjure the designer’s Chanel pieces, or tailored-suit-inspired looks of infinite variety. Black-and-white was the indisputable palette du jour.
It seemed that more celebrities than ever opted to revive old garments. Nicole Kidman donned an ethereal pale pink gown she wore in a Chanel No. 5 film that Baz Luhrmann directed with Lagerfeld two decades ago, while Gisele Bündchen chose a shimmering white dressfrom Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2007 that she previously wore in an editorial. Met Gala co-chair Dua Lipa wore one of Chanel’s most iconic archival looks, the 1992 Chanel Couture bridal gown originally worn by Claudia Schiffer. Naomi Campbell, Margot Robbie, Kristen Stewart and Blackpink’s Jennie Kim were among those wearing vintage Chanel, while Kate Moss’s daughter Lila wore Fall 2018 Fendi Couture, designed by Lagerfeld.
Many male guests accessorised their suits with brooches and leather gloves à la Lagerfeld, with standouts including photographer Tyler Mitchell’s Bode number adorned with lace and fringe and Bad Bunny’s all-white Jacquemus open-back suit and cape adorned with camellias, Chanel’s signature bloom. Women, too, experimented with their own takes on the designer’s preferred uniform. Exaggerated sleeves were the common denominator in Michelle Yeoh’s elegant look from Lagerfeld’s eponymous label and Kendall Jenner’s leggy Marc Jacobs bodysuit. Yeoh’s Everything Everywhere All at Once co-star Stephanie Hsu stunned in a bespoke Valentino gown embroidered with black sequins that contrasted a demure white shirt and black tie. Also in Valentino, Priyanka Chopra Jonas paired her black-and-white gown with a Bulgari High Jewellery necklace featuring an 11.6-carat Fancy Vivid Blue Diamond that is expected to sell for more than $25m during Sotheby’s Luxury Week auctions in Geneva later this month.
South Korean model Sora Choi, Jenny Ortega and Janelle Monáe (this year’s mid-carpet quick-change expert) led the tailored Thom Browne troupe, which expertly blended Chanel-isms with the American designer’s signature play of proportions and asymmetry. Anna Hathaway’s custom Versace ensemble, combining tweed, camellias, pearls, and gold buttons with the Italian house’s famed safety pin dress, also struck the perfect balance between the legendary European designers.
Almost as popular as looks evoking Lagerfeld’s wardrobe were those inspired by his Chanel brides. Since the 1940s, it has been a tradition for designers to conclude their Haute Couture shows with a bridal look that epitomises the house’s virtuosic craftsmanship. Chanel’s brides have become a much-anticipated fixture for the maison, and an unspoken status symbol for the model chosen to wear them. Rihanna in Valentino, Elle Fanning in Vivienne Westwood and Alton Mason (who in 2018, became the first Black male model to walk for Chanel) in custom Karl Lagerfeld all channelled their wedding-day best.
Kim Kardashian was one of countless attendees dripping in pearls—her custom Schiaparelli was equally naked, though far less contentious, than her 2022 Marilyn Monroe stunt. Collaborating with Jonathan Anderson of Loewe, Karlie Kloss flawlessly demonstrated how to pay homage to an iconic garment without posing conservation risks, and simultaneously debuting her baby bump in the process. Riffing off his “Blur” garments, where a print is blown out into fuzzy abstraction, Anderson heightened the layered golden chain trompe l’oeil effect by adding sharply rendered pearl necklaces that harken Chanel’s 1983 dress, made famous by Anna Wintour.
Fellow fashion mogul Diane von Furstenberg wore a dress depicting a crossword puzzle with Lagerfeld’s name filled in, capturing the German designer’s sense of humour and whimsy. Lily Collins and Vera Wang wore matching gowns whose trains were emblasoned with “Karl”, but the most dramatic train award goes to actor Jeremy Pope, whose 30ft custom Balmain cape featured a portrait of Lagerfeld, who worked for the French house at the beginning of his career.
Although many expected Lagerfeld’s beloved Birman cat Choupette to make a Met Gala appearance, crowds had to settle for tributes by Doja Cat in custom Oscar de la Renta and feline facial prosthetics; Lil Nas X sporting a Dior thong, full silver body paint, and Swarovski crystals and pearls; and Jared Leto, who opted for a mascot-like representation of the fluffy feline. Surprisingly, it isn’t quite the strangest Met Gala outfit the actor has worn.
In a sea of monochromatic looks that primarily paid tribute to Lagerfeld’s Chanel legacy, some of the night’s most memorable, palette-cleansing stars were dressed by Chloé, where Lagerfeld worked from 1966 to 1983 and again from 1992 to 1997. Walking the carpet together were Gabriela Hearst (Chloé’s creative director since 2021), Maude Apatow and Vanessa Kirby in archival Chloé designed by Lagerfeld. Olivia Wilde also wore a custom rendition of a Chloé dress from the same Spring 1983 collection as Kirby’s iconic “Shower” dress.
Additional iterations of these trompe l’oeil Chloé designs are featured in Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty. While visitors will find many parallels to the red carpet looks, art enthusiasts will especially delight in dozens of lesser-known creations, such as those inspired by modern masters like Sonia Delaunay and Kazimir Malevich, which further make the case for considering Lagerfeld as an artist in his own right.