The Met Gala’s Greatest Hits

Celebs resurrect Karl Lagerfeld—and Truman Capote—at this year’s mostly black and white ball

Those of us who treat fashion soirees as anthropology recall the most fabulous fashion-meets-celebrity moment of all time (so far): Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball— a.k.a. the party of the century.

Black and white is one of the rare looks that’s always in style. Fashion insiders love yin-yang, the high contrast of direct opposite colors, ironically void of color. Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel inspiration, Coco Chanel, once said, “I adore color. If it’s black or white.”  Lagerfeld followed suit (in Chanel tweed).

In honoring him—and Chanel itself—most of the celebs at this week’s Metropolitan Museum Gala turned out in black or white—or both. Other trends included requisite Chanel-style pearls, camellia accents, bows, and ruffled voluminous capes that drape on the floor, also on men. Real men wear ruffles? Well, if Harry Styles does . . .

Coco Chanel

“Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” is the theme of this year’s Met Costume Institute exhibit devoted to the late designer, who spent six decades designing the looks of Chanel, as well as Fendi, Chloe and Patou. German-born Lagerfeld is without a doubt the most prolific designer who ever lived.

Karl Lagerfeld

The Met white carpet, a sea of Chanel, new and vintage, also promoted other designers of chairwoman Anna Wintour’s choice. And they showed up, wearing their own Karl homages: Tory Burch, Stella McCartney, Vera Wang, Michael Kors, the Fendi sisters, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Kim Jones of Fendi—avec their requisitely dressed celebs.

Stella McCartney with guests at The Met Ball

Fashionistas have always considered black and white or the combo to be the only ways to make a serious entrance/exit. Those who wore color to this year’s Met were an exception: Salma Hayek’s red sparking Gucci, Nicole Kidman in ballet-pink vintage Chanel feathers, Allison Williams in coral Patou, Gwendoline Christie in bubblegum Fendi, Michaela Coel in a great bronze-beaded Schiaparelli. Viola Davis looked great in her fuchsia feathered Valentino gown—though it had absolutely nothing to do with Lagerfeld. Jennifer Lopez’s black and pink Ralph Lauren ensemble was nice—her tipped veiled pancake hat, not so much.

Jennifer Lopez in Ralph Lauren

Those in all white or cream practically refracted all those flash bulbs. They gleamed. Anne Hathaway, the new face of Versace, donned a slinky vanilla Versace and long white gloves— opera gloves being another major evening trend now. Marion Cotillard’s LWD (very little white dress) was a Chanel shocker—so was her newly matching hair—but certainly unique. Christina Ricci, often playing the Goth on screen, wore innocent white Fendi. Aubrey Plaza vamped in white lithe Stella McCartney—with Stella McCartney herself.

Anne Hathaway in Versace
Marion Cotillard in Chanel

Speaking of pearly white, both Coco and Karl draped them every which way: hence, a big statement at the Met Ball. A lot on the men. Seriously. Who started the trend of men wearing pearls? Most attribute to Harry Styles. Many of the women wore dresses adorned with pearls: Lizzo, in vintage Chanel, Kim Kardashian in a barely there Schiaparelli dress of strands of pearls (and little else). Almost every woman and many men wore them—chokers, strands, earrings, in their hair. Will this resurrect that 1920’s long-strand-of- pearls flapper look? Let’s hope so. I, for one, have been a pearl girl forever.

Lizzo in vintage Chanel
Kim Kardashian in Schiaparelli

The black-out brigade included Jessica Chastain—also newly blond—in a corset-style Gucci, Margot Robbie in vintage Chanel, Jenna Ortega in ruffled Thom Browne, Kerry Washington in a two-piece beaded Michael Kors with a blazer (one of the evening’s best). Rachel Brosnahan surprised her Midge Maisel-loving fans in a revealing Sergio Hudson, mostly made of net, with floral nipple covers. Clearly she won’t be Midge for long. Lily James matched her Patou gown with black hair. Pink-loving Paris Hilton showed in a black Marc Jacobs gown with train, Jacobs in tow. “Paris never wears black,” quipped Jacobs. “That’s why I made this for her.” Billie Eilish always does her own thing: in black Goth tulle, she rocked her favorite designer, Simone Rocha.

Margot Robbie in Chanel
Kerry Washington in Michael Kors

Opposites attract: The black and white wearers included Anna Wintour in a vintage Chanel coat and dress (with the best accessory of the night: romantic partner Bill Nighy, a secret kept for years); Emily Blunt in a Michael Kors white shirt, black skirt, and large bow; Elle Fanning in a white Vivienne Westwood dress with black coat, Julia Garner in a white Gucci dress with black cape, Lily Collins in a giant Vera Wang tulle look. Michelle Yeoh in a puffy sleeve Thom Brown—and we’ll get to Janelle Monae’s fabulous Thom Browne costume in minute.

Anna Wintour with Bill Nighy
Emily Blunt in Michael Kors

The men were dressed more look-at-me than the mostly Chanel-clad ladies. It’s turned into a competition: which man and his stylist will arrive in the most rule-breaking look? We have Brad Pitt in a skirt to thank for that. Pedro Pascal went full dandy in a red Valentino coat, red shirt, black shorts (long shorts or short pants?) and motorcycle boots—with his slicked back hair and stash, more Salvador Dali than Joel in The Last of Us. Lil Nas X’s silver body paint and a bit of Dior was no surprise.  Bryan Tyree Henry worked one of those ruffle capes like a king. Harvey Guillen’s pink tweed was his own version of a Chanel suit. Rebel Pete Davidson donned a hipster Fendi bucket hat and coat. Then there’s Jared Leto, who can’t resist a stunt. Incognito, he started out in a giant furry white cat costume—Lagerfeld’s trademark cat Choupette—only to take the head off and reveal a mountain of guyliner and and a black cape. Jeremy Pope took the cake with an endless white train on his Balmain that covered the Met steps with a painting of Karl’s face.

Harvey Guillen at the Met Ball
Jared Leto in a catsuit

The true fashion stars of the night somehow managed to pull off the nearly impossible combo: flamboyant and feminine, over-the-top and just right.

Rihanna covered in white Valentino ruffle camellias, Giselle in a vintage Chanel white silk dress and giant feathered Prada coat, Glenn Close in a meta-sized pale gray Erdem trained dress and coat, fit for a diva. Elle Fanning was straight out of a fairytale in her white Vivienne Westwood gown, black cape and crown of flowers. Janelle Monae  from Lady Gaga and Rihanna as the queen of the Met Ball—she owned it, changing from a David Byrne-oversized black-and-white Thom Browne jacket over a caged hoop skirt, stripping—on the Met Ball steps, no less—down to a black bikini. Performance art, fashion, style! Kerry Washington in her two Michael Kors was beyond chic. Lizzo’s black Chanel gown dripping in pearls went full-Karl. Daisy Jones and the Six stars Suki Waterhouse (in pale floral sheer Fendi) and Camilla Morrone in a black and white Rodarte hit it out of the park.

Rihanna in Valentino

I hate to use the word “worst”—so let’s say, the least flattering looks turned up, oddly, on supermodels. Amber Valletta in a weird see through silver Karl Lagerfeld—was that a gown? —with weirder hair. Cara Delivigne in a big white Lagerfeld brand shirt and black leather leg warmers was a total why? Avant-garde gets you eyeballs; weird garb gets you on worst (sorry) dressed lists. And what’s with the blonde Joan of Arc/Caeser hair, cut ladies? (Marion Cotillard too). Amanda Seyfried decided to dress as a more expensive version of Margot Robbie’s character in Babylon. Florence Pugh’s Valentino gown was gorgeous—but her crazy pin cushion headpiece deflated the moment.

Amber Valletta
Cara Delivigne

Yes, even The Met Ball’s got to have a few fashion don’ts. But at least this year, we didn’t see any lady chandeliers, hamburger gowns, and the rest. You may have to have a gimmick, but, like Rihanna, you’ve got to “make it fashion,” as Tim Gunn has always said.