Costume Institute Benefit Gala Inside China Through the Looking Glass

The worst fears that the Chinese theme of this year’s big Met Gala Monday night would lead its famous and fabulous guests to cross the line by wearing stereotypical garb were thankfully not realized.

There were no chopsticks in hair, at least none that we saw.

The gala, overseen by Vogue Anna Wintour and held every first Monday of May, is widely viewed as the party of the year on the social calendar. Not just anyone gets invited and each year’s guest list is a good barometer of who’s in, well, vogue.

Each year has a theme. Guests are encouraged to dress accordingly.

Most of the designer dresses that paid homage to China Monday night did so in tasteful, respectful (some might say very careful) ways, sometimes with with bold strokes, and others with nods. Many women interpreted the theme as a license to go sparkly. Several wore dresses inspired by traditional cheongsams. There were lots of headpieces. Some women, including Kristen Wiig, in Prabal Gurung, chose to wear yellow, a color long linked to China.

Rihanna’s big – and we mean big – gown, for example, came in the hue.It was made by Chinese haute couture designer Guo Pei. The star said the dress, which came with a long, and we mean long, embroidered train,  took two to years to make by hand. Conducting red-carpet interviews for, Andre Leon Talley told us Rihanna’s outfit was his favorite. “She broke the ceiling of style in the annals of red carpetry,” he effused. “Rihanna has turned the world upside down with the beautiful Guo Pei moment. And she handled it magnificently. It was an extraordinary moment.” At one point he said she brought to mind “the late great black diva Lena Horne.”

But for some on social media, the dress brought to mind some other unflattering things.  Her look instantly got memed, including in one instance one with the dress’s train in the shape of a large pizza pie.

Others made more subtle statements. Lorde’s understated gown, by Calvin Klein Collection’s Francisco Costa, came in “Ming” blue. Model Karlie Kloss wore jade earrings with her dark Atelier Versace dress.

“She’s a golden girl,” said designer Michael Kors, of Kate Hudson, who accompanied the designer and wore a custom suntan stretch-tulle open-back gown with gold hand-embroidered paillettes. Mr. Kors called it a traditional Asian garment “but with a California twist. We wanted something that felt like a tee but with the drama of a train.” Ms. Hudson said she felt “very comfortable” in it.  When we asked Ms. Hudson how she was dealing with the rule against taking pictures with mobile phones inside the gala tonight, Ms. Hudson said “Dealing? I love it!”

About that.  Vogue’s spokeswoman confirmed there was no cell-phone photography allowed inside. “I didn’t know about that,” said Claire Danes, after we informed her of the ban. Last year’s event saw social media bursting with selfies and candid scenes inside. “We’ll see how observant” guests would be, she said.

A few guests posted shots from inside the seated dinner on social media anyway. The dinner also paid homage to China, with an appetizer of vegetable, chicken, and shrimp dumplings with ginger-soy sauce and entrees of roasted duck with hoisin sauce or red snapper with ginger-lime sauce, served with fried rice, scallion pancakes and bok choy with spring vegetables. Chinese gongs called guests to dinner.

The guests were impressive by any measure. It was hard to keep up with the succession of star power walking the red carpet at any given moment from roughly 6:30 to 8:30. Well, until around 9:45, when Beyonce finally arrived, resplendent in Givenchy Haute Couture and sporting a high ponytail. The 600-strong guest list included Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Banks, Naomi Campbell, Cher, Sean Combs, Bradley Cooper, Miley Cyrus, Diplo, Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Taraji Henson, Derek Jeter, Dakota Johnson, Jennifer Lopez (in a risque Atelier Versace number), KIMYE, Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Aaron Rodgers, Usher, Sofia Vergara, Dwyane Wade, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon among many many others.

The gala celebrated the latest fashion exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute’s Anna Wintour Costume Center and the Department of Asian Art’s Chinese Galleries, which opens May 7 and runs through Aug. 16. The exhibition and benefit were sponsored by Yahoo with additional support provided by Conde Nast and several Chinese donors. Jennifer Lawrence and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer served as two of the three five co-chairs.  Ms. Lawrence, in Dior, walked this red carpet without tumbling.

Anne Hathaway took a different kind of tumble, going deep to research a Chinese artist that helped inspire the custom Ralph Lauren Collection gold lame hooded cap sleeve column evening dress she wore, she said. “It’s a couture hoodie,” she said. “I’m so happy right now.”

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