What was Carl thinking? Watching the stream of Lagerfeld-a-likes climb the steps of the Met on Monday night in black-and-white, it was hard not to wonder.
Yes, the dress code was dictated to the evening “in honor of Karl”, the evening itself in honor of the opening of the Fashion Institute exhibition dedicated to the designer’s work. Yes, Mr. Lagerfeld has made himself into a caricature, with his uniform of black jeans, white turtleneck, black blazer, fingerless gloves, black silk ties and black shades. And yes, the party itself often looks like a high-fashion fancy dress, with guests trying to outdo each other in attention-grabbing lotteries.
But Mr. Lagerfeld, who has attended the ceremony seven times and was a co-host once, in 2005 when the topic was Chanel, was also a man who didn’t have a truck with looking back, once declaring, “I don’t want to see all those old dresses” when asked. for a previous retrospective of his work. And this was a party full of old dresses. (A positive change, for once, from whatever happened in the past.)
Vintage was everywhere: a 1988 mint green Chanel on Penélope Cruz, co-host, and a white Chanel Princess dress from 1992 on Dua Lipa, another co-host; a 1993 Chanel dress on Margot Robbie and a 2010 pink and silver Chanel dress on Naomi Campbell; Nicole Kidman even recreated the feathered Chanel outfit she wore in a 2004 ad campaign for the brand. Chloe is also vintage: a redesigned violin dress, originally designed by Mr. Lagerfeld in 1983, on Olivia Wilde and a redesigned shower dress from the same collection, revived for Vanessa Kirby.
and Fendi, courtesy of Lila Moss Hack in 2018 couture — “vintage” is a interchangeable term these days — and Suki Waterhouse in a floral dress from the Spring 2019 collection. (Watching the red carpet felt a bit like a treasure hunt through fashion history: guess the season! ) That’s recycling for you.
What was amazing was how good everything looked. In some ways, the devotion of the evening’s dress code to Mr. Lagerfeld was an opportunity to reset, an opening for the audience to avoid ridiculous temptation and return to elegance.
After all, the designer believed in making an effort. (He once mocked sweatpants as “a sign of defeat.”) And so did many of the guests. Compared to more recent festivals such as “Camp” and “Heavenly Bodies”, the kitsch element was significantly undervalued.
There were a few notable exceptions, of course, most notably Choupette’s iconic portraits: Jared Leto, in full white Berman costume (later changed into a black suit and cape); Doja Cat wears an Oscar de la Renta cat dress covered in pearls and feathers and facial prosthetics; Lil Nas X in silver pearl-encrusted body art and a G-string.
But compared to a plethora of quieter boucles—even Janelle Monáe’s nudity in an oversized Thom Browne tweed coat over a pyramid-shaped superstructure peeled back by a group of assistants to reveal an embroidered bikini, and Anne Hathaway’s pinned-up safety in Versace—did tweed—they seemed a little desperate. (To be fair, Mr. Lagerfeld, who once built a supermarket in the Grand Palais, appreciated the viral remark as much as anyone, and probably would have been amusing.)
Even Kim Kardashian, who wore a cord of Schiaparelli pearls across her neck and waist over a toned-down corset, looked out of place, as if she was trying too hard. This is despite the fact that the pearls were an obvious nod to Mr. Lagerfeld’s Chanel, his fashion-shifting facility with the brand’s signature, and he appeared time and time again in more toned-down looks to the other guests. See, for example, Chanel Lizzo’s black pearl-and-scalloped Chanel over Prabal Gurung’s gray silk Taika Waititi coat.
Indeed, the rug was full of not-so-disgusting Lagerfeld references, like the high collar of Giulia Gucci’s white satin halter-neck dress, and Cardi B’s black patent leather camellia-embellished dress from Chen Peng’s studio, which came with his own shirt and tie. Not to mention the gloves, shades, and tie pin Ke Huy Quan wore at Dior Men; the white trompe l’oeil shirt and tie from Stephanie Hsu’s embroidered Valentino dress; and “Choupette blue” from James Corden’s Brioni tux (named by Mr. Lagerfeld in honor of his cat’s eyes).
Then there was Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain quilted handbag, complete with “Carl who?” Scribbled on the side. It was a reference to a tote bag the designer once carried, and he had a relatively healthy sense of humor about its silliness. Mr. Lagerfeld probably would have appreciated the sweeping robe that Mr. Rousteing designed for Jeremy Pope with Lagerfeld’s voluminous figure at the hem. He did, after all, put his face on an H&M T-shirt for their collaboration. He liked the idea of showing up.
However, of all the Lagerfeld gestures on display, perhaps none sounded more Lagerfeld true than Rihanna’s arrival after 10 p.m., a point in the evening when some of the guests were already leaving the party. In a camellia-draped Valentino cocoon and baby-hugging white gown, she swept the arm of ASAP Rocky, who himself wore Gucci jeans and a kilt in the style of an outfit worn by Mr. Lagerfeld for a runway bow at the 2004 Chanel show. Mr. Lagerfeld, of course, was always late for everything. Often by hours.
He, of all people, would have applauded the entrance.