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



May 2, 2023 GMT

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

Leto was walking around the Met Gala cocktail receptionnot long after his grand entrance onto the carpet as Choupette, designer Karl Lagerfeld’s famous cat, in an all-white fur suit with very real-looking eyes. Once in cocktails it was too hot to keep the whole suit on, but he didn’t let the head down.

A few friends wanted to check out the head, worn like a war trophy. Rami Malek, for example, and director Taika Waititi, who fit it.

But what would happen at dinner? Leto said he was going to “find a nice quiet chair so Chou Chou can get some rest.”

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

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


As guests entered the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum, they passed a towering centerpiece – flanked by an orchestra playing tunes – then climbed the massive staircase to the receiving row, with hosts Anna Wintour, Michaela Coel, Penéope Cruz, Dua Lipa and Roger Federer pending. Last year, the centerpiece and staircase were covered in bright pink roses – 275,000 of them. This time it was recycled water bottles. Met officials put the number at 100,000, obtained from a recycling plant – and returned to a recycling plant. It was the inspiration of exhibition designer Tadao Ando.


Famous guests often skip the exhibition and go straight to cocktails. This year, museum officials really wanted them to see the lavish show at Lagerfeld — so they helped things along by moving the crowd from the reception line to the exhibit, with cocktails and dinner one floor down.

Indeed, the exhibition was busier 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 of the designer constantly working, learning and creating. He also praised his cleverness: “Too often we don’t celebrate the intellect.” He wore a high-collared starched white shirt, part of Lagerfeld’s personal uniform, with his Thom Browne ensemble. He recalled a visit to Lagerfeld at his home in Biarritz, where he said. “there was a whole room with these shirts.”


The Met Gala is filled with stars from film, music, sports, fashion and more, but Wintour also has a penchant for Broadway and often invites actors from shows she loves to the gala. During this gala, a spot on one side of the airy Charles Engelhard Court became the site of a joyful reunion of Broadway actors. Among the group that gathered, laughed and hugged were Josh Groban (“Sweeney Todd”), Phillipa Soo (“Camelot”), Ben Platt (“Parade”) and Jonathan Groff (“Merrily We Roll Along”). Soo called the party “amazing and whimsical. I feel so lucky to be here with these artists and celebrate another artist.

It was his fifth Met Gala for Platt and he looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck. “Anna is a huge champion of the theatre!” he said. He added that this was his favorite gala because he got to enjoy it with his friend and ‘Parade’ co-star, Micaela Diamond.


Platt received a warm 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 go to an exhibition like this not to appreciate the impact, inspiration and influence he has had on all forms of fashion,” he said. “This is very educational for me.”


It’s also no secret that Wintour also enjoys playing tennis. A fixture at the US Open, she is especially close to Federer, the recently retired Swiss superstar. Federer, this year’s host, said he had a much more relaxed experience at his second Met Gala. “It’s a much more relaxed lifestyle now, so you can really get into it,” he said. “I could really look forward to it, prepare for it.” Federer sauntered into dinner cocktails alongside Serena Williams, who also recently retired from tennis, announcing her pregnancy at the gala along with husband Alexis Ohanian. Also at the gala was Mary Jo Fernandez, former female star turned commentator, who brought her college daughter as her date.


NBA star Russell Westbrook, who attended his third gala, said it was still great to meet “so many style icons” at fashion’s biggest night. But a major new face to the sport this year was Brittney Griner, who smiled at the cocktail reception as she expressed how happy she was to attend. On the carpet, the WNBA star spoke about helping families working to free Americans imprisoned in foreign prisons through the Bring Our Families Home organization.


Actor Leto, who never let 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 Karel. And one of the first times I met him, I said, ‘I’m going to have to play you in a movie,’ and he said, ‘ONLY you my love, only you.’ And now we are developing a film. I just feel like 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 previous associations with Lagerfeld – some of them just one-time encounters. While tasting the exhibit, Hugh Jackman explained that he had met the designer at a dinner and was struck by a man who never stopped, whose ethos was “Keep creating, keep creating, keep creating.” A one-time encounter was also described by rapper Pusha T, like many decked out in Thom Browne, who said he ran into Lagerfeld in Paris as he walked out of his shop. “He walked in, I walked out. I was like ‘OMG Karl, I need to take a picture.’ He was nice. He took the picture — and then said, ‘It’s raining on me, I have to go!’”


The clock was about to strike midnight and Cinderella had 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 waiting for Rihanna to show up. Inside the museum, while most of the guests were well past their meal, a hardened crew of wait staff, photographers, and museum staff also waited. They listened to screams outside, hoping it heralded Rihanna’s arrival — but in one instance, it was a cockroach that caused the commotion.

Finally the singer showed up, after 10 pm because some guests were already dining. She posed inside her dramatic Valentino ensemble in white, accompanied by partner A$AP Rocky in a kilt-like layer over jeans, then disappeared down a hallway. But Cinderella had finally arrived and everyone could consider turning into pumpkins.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.