Cats, cats, cats were the theme of the night, which was in honor of Karl Lagerfeld, the prolific, brilliant, eccentric late fashion designer known for hair-raisingly problematic opinions on everything from #MeToo to the Holocaust. But the fashion world forgives very easily, and on Monday night, it would seem that beyond his fashion work, he was most affectionately known for doting on his Birman cat, Choupette.
The Met Gala looks you don’t want to miss
Lagerfeld called her “a great beauty” and flew her private. She was rumored to be his heiress upon his death in 2019. Choupette, though, did not come to the Met Gala despite being invited, preferring to “stay peaceful & cozy at home,” according to her Instagram. Such a cat move.
The Met is known as fashion’s Super Bowl, essentially a big, fun runway for creativity and sample-size figures that also serves as a fundraiser for the Met’s Costume Institute, which is presenting a sweeping exhibition of Lagerfeld’s designs for Chanel, Fendi, Chloé and his namesake line. It even has pieces from his H&M collaboration.
So instead of the real Choupette, there were homages to the feline. Chloe Fineman of “Saturday Night Live” carried her Choupette in the form of a pink sparkly custom-made purse from Judith Leiber. Doja Cat was a hero and dressed, very appropriately on this occasion, as an actual cat. Lil Nas X went abstract, slinking along the carpet in silver body paint. When veteran Variety reporter Marc Malkin asked him to talk about his outfit, the singer bounded down the stairs, leaned into Malkin’s microphone and said, “MEOW!”
Choupette skipped the Met Gala — but was everywhere
Later, the reporter played the clip over and over on his phone, laughing and shaking his head. “You know, I went to journalism school,” he said.
It was inevitable that someone would go full furry and wear a cat costume, and that happened around the time that “Funny Girl” sensation Lea Michele was making her way up the stairs in sparkly Michael Kors. Made aware that there was a giant cat mugging for the camera 100 yards away, Michele looked down the stairs, said, “Oh wow,” in a very “this is New York, what do you expect?” kind of tone and went back to talking to a reporter.
Moments later, the cat took its head off, and it was … Jared Leto. Which tracks, because Leto, who carried a re-creation of his own severed head like a purse to the 2018 gala is always doing too much at these things. And we love him for it.
Aubrey Plaza not so much. “He took that head off way too soon. He should have kept it on longer. That’s what Karl would have done!” she said, and stormed off dramatically, while also trying to hold in one of her breasts that was dangerously close to escaping her white Stella McCartney gown with peekaboo holes.
In photos: The scene on the Met Gala red carpet
Others didn’t need Choupette homages because they were carrying their memories of Lagerfeld and le chat. “She didn’t scratch, she did her own thing, she was a diva cat!” said Salma Hayek, who wore red because Lagerfeld said he always liked her in red.
“He loved her so much. He would talk to me about Choupette the way I talk to him about my family,” said Penélope Cruz, who had been Lagerfeld’s Chanel muse. “And he used to call me and some of the other girls Choupette, and we took it as a great compliment.”
Several had to admit that they were, in fact, not cat people. Usher had a golden doodle “that was the love of my life” but now keeps pygmy goats that he spoils by giving tons of oats. “They s— all around the pool,” said the singer. “It’s the worst s— ever. I love it.” Does he clean it up himself? “No! I let my kids do it.”
Models like Naomi Campbell and Karen Elson, of course, knew Lagerfeld, as did so many of his fellow designers. A surprise acquaintance turned out to be Jimmy Fallon, who knew Lagerfeld from regularly winding up at the same table at countless galas.
“We were at the Gramercy Park hotel once, and he’s like, ‘I’m buying an apartment here.’ And I go, ‘I want to live here!’” Fallon said. “He goes, ‘You want to be neighbors?’ I’m thinking we’ll watch ‘Jeopardy!’ together, borrow sugar. He’s like, ‘I’ll get a deal for you.’ Next day he calls me and tells me the deal. $19 million. I’m like, ‘Karl, we’re definitely not going to be neighbors.’ And I don’t know if we ever talked again. That was the last time I talked to Karl Lagerfeld.”
There were, of course, amazing outfits. Janelle Monáe in a see-through hoop skirt, Sean “Diddy” Combs in an elaborate black cloak that marked the return of his Sean John line. Broadway star Jeremy Pope wearing a train with Lagerfeld’s face on it that was so huge it required four dedicated train-movers in tuxedos to position it for photographs.
Michaela Coel dazzled in a Schiaparelli covered with what looked liked 10,000 pieces of gold embellishments and a starfish hanging off her nipple. Bad Bunny wore a white boa made of fabric roses that must have been 30 feet long. (One of the evening’s many train holders wiped his face with it.) “Mr. Bunny! Mr. Bunny!” reporters shouted trying to get his attention. Jessica Chastain sported sunglasses and went blonde for a night, seemingly loving every moment. “The photographers were like, ‘Who is that?’ I was like, ‘Hi, guys,’” she said, lifting her glasses.
When Cardi B walked the carpet in her second outfit of the night — a hoop skirt covered in puffy black flowers, which followed her first appearance in a pink corset number with a stand-up tulle collar — that meant we were down to waiting for one more guest. Rihanna would be coming in 10 minutes, staffers said. After 10 minutes and no RiRi, we asked again. Another 10 minutes. And so on, until an hour and 20 minutes passed.
But, honestly, everyone stopped caring about when Rihanna was arriving once the screaming started.
It felt for a moment like there was going to be a stampede. Cameras nearly got knocked over. A cockroach had entered the tent. A flying cockroach. Who flew into the head of the cameraman right behind us, and then ran up and down the steps, and along the tent wall like Spider-Man, but browner and wilier. It disappeared, but soon the shrieks returned. Louder this time. Everyone in the press corps whipped out their phones. The roach was on the carpet.
There it zigged, and there it zagged, racing toward the entrance. One of the official Met Gala photographers took its portrait. Then the crowd shrieked even more, as the roach scrambled onto the photographer’s foot and got kicked into the air. But this roach was relentless. More shrieks as it came back and ran up the photographer’s pants leg.
Instantly, this humble insect had become the most famous roach, possibly of the 21st century. It was a classic New Yorker, of course, like the pigeons we’ve seen fly into the Met tent on occasion. But it had so much chutzpah. Pizza rat has nothing on this roach. In the chaos, it ran for the open door to the gala, and for a second, it looked like this insect was about to go into the most exclusive party of the year. More shrieks, almost shrieks of encouragement. And then silence. A security guard’s foot slammed on the carpet. “All that screaming was freaking me out,” he said, and shrugged.
With the feisty insect exterminated, the focus was back to the most in-demand celebrity of the year. She may have kept us waiting, but when Rihanna did show up, she brought it, in a white cloud of an outfit made of sculptural flowers that covered her entire head and face and had a train requiring six dedicated movers (take that, Jeremy Pope!). After a few minutes, she opened it like a clamshell and rubbed her pregnant belly for the crowd. “This is epic!” said a cameraman. RiRi moved to one side of the carpet, and the six train movers rushed into position. She moved to the other side and the coterie activated again. Then she glided up the stairs with the help of fiance A$AP Rocky. What was she wearing? “Valentino, baby!” How did she feel? “Good,” she said, and rubbed her white-gloved fingers together. “Expensive.” And with that, she and her train slid over the corpse of our dearly departed roach friend, and went inside.