The theme of this year’s Met Costume Institute Gala—i.e., the Oscars of the East—was “the Model as Muse,” and the weedlike mannequins floating up the red carpet in weapons-grade shoes and teensy get-ups appeared only moderately more human than the “superheroes” that inspired last year’s ball.
Molly Sims called her elaborate gold Dolce & Gabbana minidress “fashion-forward, taking a chance, shorter than short, short, short.” She was also wearing a necklace by jeweler-of-the-moment Tom Binns. “I kinda push fashion tonight!”
“We’ve gotten our due for a long time,” she demurred when asked whether it was nice to be the center of attention for once. “But it’s nice.”
Short was the order of the evening: One of the last standing supermodels, Kate Moss, had arrived 35 minutes in advance of the start time on the arm of honorary gala chair Marc Jacobs, clad in a miniscule gold toga and matching turban.
Mr. Jacobs was uncharacteristically buttoned-up in tuxedo and slicked-back hair; he placed his hand stiffly on Ms. Moss’ back and the duo posed for a few photos before exchanging whispers and rushing past crushed television crews to the entrance atop the stairs. (Mr. Jacobs’ fiancé, advertising executive Lorenzo Martone, would later arrive on the arm of Posh Spice.)
Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley, resplendent in an Isabel Toledo cape, was more voluble: “I gave a lot of advice to a lot of people, but they shall remain nameless because they don’t want me to say who I’m giving advice to,” he was telling a reporter nearby. (Last year, he’d dressed Venus Williams).
Russell Simmons looked on admiringly. “I once sat with André Leon Talley,” he said. “He’s the host of the event”—actually, it’s his boss, Anna Wintour—“he’s the inspiration for the whole thing, he’s got such good taste and everyone looks to him; he’s like fashion royalty, isn’t he?”
Mr. Talley was now telling a photographer who asked him to back up for a photo to “just take Obama!”, slapping an Obama button he’d pinned to his massive gold heart chain Roger Vivier necklace. “I had a good time,” he told The Observer of last year’s gala. “We went to the after-party, Venus and I, and Kimora [Lee Simmons] and Karl [Lagerfeld]; we had a fabulous time, it was at some restaurant, Phillipe …”
He declined to comment on how he planned to potentially get Mr. Obama to the ball in the future: “Ask Anna Wintour! I don’t answer those kind of questions, I have a mortgage to pay!”
Co-host Justin Timberlake appeared on the carpet in nerdy glasses with a Versace-clad Jessica Biel on his arm, and the photographers’ chorus of shouts reached a high pitch (rivaled only by the one greeting Posh Spice soon after, and, much later, Madonna).
Then came the moguls: Harvey, Donald, Rupert.
“How are you, my little beauty, are you still married?” Mr. Trump was asking a petite blond Fox News reporter as wife Melania posed for pictures down the carpet.
“I’ve been here many times, yes,” he told The Observer. “You just meet a lot of great people.” Who did he want to meet tonight? “I hadn’t thought about it, ask me after dinner!” Would that we were invited to dinner, sir!
The carpet was filling up with ethereal, slow-moving Russian and Eastern European mannequins, most wearing smoky eyeliner and messy hair and clutching the nerdy-looking young fashion designers who’d designed their outfits.
“She was lovely enough and gracious enough to ask me to be her date,” said designer Richard Chai of the Amazonian Karolina Kurkova, standing to his right in a, yes, short blue dress he’d designed. “I’ve known Karolina since she first came to New York, when she was 16, and I was the director at Marc Jacobs, so it’s an ironic sort of full-circle moment for us, that Marc’s hosting it. She came in for a casting and we took her for the show, and she was the same exact person then as she is now.”
In the car, bracing themselves for flashbulb impact before braving the carpet, they’d discussed “absolutely nothing about fashion,” he said. “Just what have we been up to, what are we doing, where are we going afterwards” (to Mr. Jacobs’ party at Monkey Bar and then to knitwear heiress Margherita Missoni’s bash at 1Oak).
Soft-spoken Michelle Obama clothier Jason Wu, meanwhile, making his Met debut after exploding from obscurity into household-name-dom in the past year, described how he went about getting a date with Jessica Alba. “We met each other last year, we were at a photo shoot. It was really great,” he said. “So when it came to the Met, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to ask Jessica.’ We’d seen each other a couple more times, and when it came to this event, I thought, ‘Well, Jessica would be the perfect muse.’ She’s really down to earth. These things can be daunting at times.”
Hey! There was Cheryl Tiegs, wearing a blue sequined, actually floor-grazing vintage Norman Norrell. “When I was starting out, nobody really knew who models were or what they were doing or whatever; they certainly didn’t know my name,” she said. “Today, I think girls are much more recognizable, and that puts more pressure on them. They get more money, it’s a bigger production. But there is no right or wrong, good or bad. When I started out, it was simpler.”
Nonetheless: “It was a thrill,” Ms. Tiegs sighed. “I love my Vogue covers. They’re some of my favorites.”
Dominant fashion trends in evidence to this point included braids on the head—like those stacked on the noggin of Tyra Banks, resembling nothing so much as a shiny bird’s nest—and jumpsuits, like the ones encasing Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon (Halston), model and Andy Roddick better-half Brooklyn Decker (Derek Lam) and Stella McCartney (her own).
British Rag & Bone designer Marcus Wainwright was squiring actress Lake Bell, wearing a tight black Rag & Bone pantsuit and side-leaning top hat, up the carpet. “It was her idea to wear a suit,” he said. “This is traditionally a very dress-oriented thing, and she was like, ‘Yeah, I want to wear a suit!’
“It’s quite an overwhelming evening; there’s a lot of people you read about a lot,” he continued. “I met Karl Lagerfeld last year, which was pretty fun. I said, ‘That’s a nice jacket,’ and he just goes”—Mr. Wainwright lowered his voice to a throaty whisper—“‘Chanel Homme.’ And that’s it. That was the end of our conversation.”
Tonight he would sit with countryman and Topshop chief Sir Philip Green, whom he’d never met, but who had presumably purchased a table at this very New York party to honor his new New York store. “It should be fun!” Mr. Wainwright said, almost giddy.
Suddenly, newlywed Gisele Bundchen appeared, toting Tom Brady and wearing Versace again. And even less of it than last year! A few blue sequins covered her torso, stopping short of her legs.
Donatella Versace appeared soon after to take responsibility for this. “Once you dress Gisele, what is left?” she said in her thick Italian accent.
An Olsen twin had taken the alternative route, appearing in what looked to be a white sheet, the kind children wear on Halloween (it was from the twins’ label, the Row).
Actress Emmy Rossum tried to put in perspective what the famous people might be feeling at this chaotic moment: “A, why does it always rain, and B, don’t trip! If you trip, you just roll down, and down, and down …” She gestured at the long distance from whence she’d come from her Town Car.
Then it was actress Diane Kruger (arriving with boyfriend Pacey, er, Joshua Jackson), in a white, wedding-cake-looking Chanel—“It was a one-time wonder, it fit perfectly without having to do anything to it! But I did my own makeup, so it took me a little longer to get ready than usual, maybe an hour and a half,” she said.
Socialite Fabiola Beracasa was also in Chanel Couture, but longer and more ornate; she’d flown to Paris to pick it out. “It’s ridiculous,” she’d told The Observer before the event. “I’m so happy with my dress, and I think it’s beautiful, and it’s so fun just to go. I could be sitting in the bathroom and it’s cool. Actually, the bathroom is where it all happens, to be honest! The bathroom is where everybody goes to smoke, and you run into, like—I have run into everybody from J. Lo to Jessica Simpson in that bathroom. I remember really distinctly Jessica Simpson in that Roberto Cavalli dress that was beaded and down to there, and up close it was a lot to take in. …”
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon, meanwhile, was gamely working the carpet nearby with wife Nancy Juvonen. “This is like a normal night out for us, this is not a big deal!” he shrieked. “This is like, I mean, to us this is not a big deal. We always have a red carpet, we always wear tuxedos and designer dresses …”
“It’s actually really fun,” piped in Nancy, more seriously.
“It’s a really good party inside,” agreed Mr. Fallon. “There’s always a surprise musical thing, a Broadway show or something fun. … Anytime I can legally drink in a museum, I always agree to the invitation!”
Almost two hours after Mr. Jacobs and Ms. Moss had arrived, a shout rose from the paparazzi. It grew to hysteria. Vamping on the almost-deserted steps below were Madonna and Jesus (Luz, her boyfriend). The Material Girl wore Louis Vuitton, short and puffy, with leather boots encasing her thighs and two antennalike blue feathers sprouting from her head. Jesus appeared to be the shy type: She yanked him toward the photographers and wrapped her arms around him seductively, while he offered a tentative wave.
The duo encountered the Seinfelds, still making their way up the carpet. Madge dragged Jessica over to the photographers; Jerry stood in the middle of the carpet in glasses, hands folded awkwardly, looking bewildered, not appearing to exchange words with Jesus.
And then the famous carpet went quiet.
Inside, guests were treated to a surprise performance by Kanye West and Rihanna, who wore a Dolce & Gabbana pantsuit.
(The bathrooms, as predicted, were stuffed throughout dinner by nicotine-addled partygoers: One guest reported seeing Josh Hartnett and John Galliano in the ladies’ room puffing away with a clutch of models—“because nobody eats!”)
Most attendees then retired to Mr. Jacobs’ aforementioned party at the Monkey Bar, and then to late-night fetes hosted by Ms. Missoni (1Oak) or the Rodarte designers (SubMercer), or to Bungalow 8.
One spy reported that earlier, leaving the Met, she’d witnessed an “icy” encounter between two of the evening’s more recognizable models: Ms. Bundchen and Bar Refaeli, the Sports Illustrated cover girl and current flame of Ms. Bundchen’s ex, Leonardo DiCaprio. “They both looked away when they walked right next to each other. Then, “literally, I swear, Bar checked her out a thousand times up and down.”