Inside the Met Gala: A furry feline star, a tardy Cinderella

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Alexis Ohanian, left, and Serena Williams attend The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty" exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2023, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Jared Leto was looking for a place to hang his hat. Er, actually his head.

Leto was walking around the cocktail reception at the Met Gala, not long after his big entrance on the carpet as Choupette, designer Karl Lagerfeld’s famous cat, in a full-on white fur suit with very real-looking eyes. Once inside cocktails, it was too hot to keep the whole suit on, but he would not abandon the head.

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Some friends wanted to check out the head, carried like a war trophy. Rami Malek, for example, and director Taika Waititi, who tried it on.

But what would happen at dinner? Leto said he was going to “find a nice quiet seat, so that Chou Chou can take a little rest.”

And so it went at the Met Gala, where an Oscar-winning actor carrying a huge cat head seeking a nap still had to compete with lots of other things, and people, and clothes, for attention.

Here are some moments and scenes from inside Monday's Met Gala:


As guests entered the Metropolitan Museum's Great Hall, they passed a towering centerpiece — flanked by an orchestra playing tunes — and then climbed the huge staircase up to the receiving line, with hosts Anna Wintour, Michaela Coel, Penélope Cruz, Dua Lipa and Roger Federer awaiting. Last year, the centerpiece and staircase were carpeted with bright pink roses — 275,000 of them. This time it was recycled water bottles. Met officials estimated the number at 100,000, obtained from a recycling plant — and headed back to a recycling plant. It was the inspiration of exhibit designer Tadao Ando.


Often, celebrity guests skip the exhibit and head straight to cocktails. This year, museum officials really wanted them to see the sumptuous show on Lagerfeld — so they helped things along by routing the crowd from the receiving line to the exhibit, with cocktails and dinner down one floor.

The exhibit was indeed more crowded than usual during the gala, and one of the first to visit was Baz Luhrmann. The Australian director had worked with Lagerfeld on a Chanel No. 5 commercial starring Nicole Kidman and had fond memories, saying the designer was constantly working, learning, and creating. He also praised his smarts: “Too often we don’t celebrate the intellect." The director was wearing a high-collared, starched white shirt, part of Lagerfeld’s personal uniform, with his Thom Browne ensemble. He recalled visiting Lagerfeld at his home in Biarritz, where, he said, “there was a whole entire room of these shirts.”


It’s a challenge every year, getting hundreds of guests to leave cocktails and walk through the museum to dinner. One year a team of buglers did the trick. Last year, multiple Grammy winner Jon Batiste came through cocktails with his band, playing the melodica. This year, David Byrne took up the challenge, leading his own band (with a megaphone) and snaking through the room like a pied piper. (Byrne also rode his bicycle to the gala, which would have come in handy for the long trek to the Temple of Dendur for dinner.)


The Met Gala is filled with stars of film, music, sports, fashion and more, but Wintour also has a fondness for Broadway, and often invites actors from shows she loves to the gala. At cocktails, a spot on one side of the airy Charles Engelhard Court became the site of a joyous gaggle of Broadway actors, like a summer camp reunion. Among the group gathering, laughing and hugging were Josh Groban (“Sweeney Todd”), Phillipa Soo, Jordan Donica and Andrew Burnap (“Camelot”), Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond (“Parade”), J. Harrison Ghee ("Some Like it Hot") and Jonathan Groff (“Merrily We Roll Along”). Soo called the party “wonderful and whimsical. I feel so lucky to be here with these artists and celebrate another artist.”

For Platt, it was his fifth Met Gala, and he looked like he couldn't believe his luck. “Anna is a huge champion of the theater!” he said. He added that this was his favorite gala because he was able to enjoy it with Diamond, his friend and co-star in “Parade."


Platt got a big greeting from Groban, who plays the murderous barber in “Sweeney Todd.” He was at his second Met Gala, and said he appreciated learning about Lagerfeld, the German-born designer who worked in luxury fashion for 65 years until his death in 2019. “It's impossible when you get to an exhibit like this not to appreciate the impact and the inspiration and influence that he’s had on all forms of fashion,” he said. “This is very educational for me.”


It’s also no secret that Wintour also loves tennis. She’s a fixture at the U.S. Open, and is especially close to Federer, the Swiss superstar who recently retired. A host this year, Federer said he was having a much more relaxed experience at his second Met Gala. “It's a much more relaxed lifestyle now so you can also get really into it,” he said. “I could really look forward to it, prepare for it.” Federer strolled to dinner from cocktails alongside Serena Williams, who also recently stepped back from tennis, and announced her pregnancy at the gala along with husband Alexis Ohanian. Also at the gala was former women's star (and current commentator) Mary Joe Fernandez, who’d brought her daughter as her date.


NBA star Russell Westbrook, attending his third gala, said it was still amazing to meet “so many style icons” on fashion’s biggest night. But a key new face from the sport this year was Brittney Griner, who smiled at the cocktail reception when expressing how happy she was to be attending. On the carpet, the WNBA star spoke about helping support families working to free Americans jailed in foreign prisons through the organization Bring Our Families Home.


Actor Leto, never letting go of Choupette’s head, explained that his attachment to Lagerfeld (and the cat) was both personal and professional. “It was done with a lot of love,” he said of the costume. “I knew Karl. And one of the first times I met him I said ‘I am going to have to play you in a movie,’ and he said, ‘ONLY you my love, only you.’ And now we're developing a film. I just feel that if Karl were here, and I saw Karl, in full Choupette glory, he would have the biggest smile on his face."


Many guests reflected on past associations with Lagerfeld — some of them only one-time encounters. Hugh Jackman explained while sampling the exhibit that he'd met the designer at a dinner and was struck by a man who never stopped, whose ethos was “Keep creating, keep creating, keep creating.” Also describing a one-time meeting was rapper Pusha T, like many decked out in Thom Browne, who said he encountered Lagerfeld in Paris, walking out of his store. “He was walking in, I was walking out. I was like ‘OMG Karl, I gotta take a picture.’ He was nice. He took the picture — and then said ‘Its raining on me, I’ve got to go!'”


The clock was soon to strike midnight, and Cinderella was yet to arrive at the ball. Well, it felt like midnight. It wasn’t just the crowds outside on Fifth Avenue or the crews on the red carpet that were waiting for Rihanna to show up. Inside the museum, while most guests were well into dinner, a hardy crew of wait staff, photographers, and museum staffers were waiting, too. They listened to screams outside, hoping it signaled Rihanna's arrival — but in one case, it was a roach that caused the commotion.

Finally, the singer showed up, past 10 p.m. as some guests were already leaving dinner. She posed inside in her dramatic Valentino ensemble in white, accompanied by partner A$AP Rocky in a kilt-type layer over jeans, then vanished down a hallway. But Cinderella had finally arrived, and everyone else could consider turning into pumpkins.

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