Met Gala 2023: Train to Karl

The stunning gala makes it hard to pick the best and most, yet details tell us how celebs externalise dark and light themes. Dominantly black and white, the gathering reveals the colours of memory


In the 2008 book, Karl Lagerfeld: You Can Leave Your Hat On (Steidl), an intriguingly curated collection of the late German fashion designer and visual artist’s photographs of the model Jake Davies, the one constant is a hat. Davies, a British model, was one of  Lagerfeld’s many muses and he wears the hat in every single photograph. The book navigates through human ambiguities, sexual complexities, and ways of seeing and remembering, existential mental riots, beauty, glamour, body, youth, lust… All photos are sepia-tinted and the never lost hat is a “beacon” as the introduction tells us, “linking the episodes into a larger story”.

The thing is that most examinations of the larger-than-life late designer and his work, the man who held and helmed legacy brands like Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, Balmain, Patou and his own eponymous label, can land us into many complex terrains. Pearls to flowers, powdered ponytails and clinging jackets and leather pants, little black dresses and tweed jackets, onyx shirt cuffs, chains and leather gloves, monogrammed cameras, violins, LV shirt boxes …the entire universe of a privileged, imaginative life from black to white and a few things in colour. And yet all these disparate items and ideas link to one “larger story”.

So at Met Gala 2023 held on May 1, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—the theme of which is ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’ that honours the beautiful disquiet of his design mind, if an overwhelmingly large number of celebs turned up in black and white, let’s listen.


Olivia Wilde, Gabriela Hearst, Maude Apatow and Vanessa Kirby arrive for the 2023 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
AFP/Angela Weiss

Monochromatic Spectrum

Since 2005, since the Met Gala began to be held on the first Monday of May annually as fashion’s biggest party, (staggered just once to September in 2021 given COVID-19 restrictions), and even after it got coined as Global Editorial Director of Vogue and the Condé Nast star-matriarch, Anna Wintour’s glamour party, what walks out is a procession of high couture. That can be chopped into hundreds of style pieces or sewn up in the categories of good, best, bad, worse, even unwatchable.

A series of exciting and experimental looks have unfolded in the past, (Rihanna’s interpretation of the Catholicism theme through her Papal robe and trinkets in 2018, Katy Perry’s hamburger dress in 2019 or Kim Kardashian’s all covered look in 2021 are just some instances). But in one event, these gobsmacking exceptions are few as usually the Met Gala is a Met meets Trial and Error hoping some fantastical couture themes are born. They do.


Jennifer Lopez wore Ralph Lauren to the red carpet.

Never before has the glamour and theme-exploration balancing its act between audacity and envy been as prolific and persistent as this time. Fantasy glamour as a backlash to pandemic restraint may be one reason but let’s not forget the complexity, versatility and yet a certain definition that Lagerfeld brought to his work as a designer, couturier, collector, photographer, writer, cat lover. The definition is monochromatic, both real and metaphoric. It is also a fashion case study to see how a designer-artist lives in memory through two stark colours. If Coco Chanel lives through the little black dress and pearls; Christian Dior through the “New Look”, YSL has a pants-wearing legacy or India’s Rohit Khosla survives in memory through crinkled, flowing kurtas, loose kaftans with large prints, floral motifs and ahead-of-its-times fluid menswear, we can well see the evident ways of “training to Karl”.


Florence Pugh (Left) and Lil Nas X at the Met Gala 2023.

Training to Karl

Now, that’s a tough one. Because one way was to literally train under him. Be his disciple like Silvia Venturini Fendi, the big boss at Fendi and Lagerfeld’s colleague and friend, film director Sofia Coppola, Virginie Viard (the creative director of Chanel since Lagerfeld passed away in 2019) to name a few. “Training to Karl” though is about immersing in his art and craft and coming out looking glamourous, individualistic, fantastical, and non-conformist even if you are following the black and white imagination. The monochromatic dominance in celeb outfits is a clear homage to Karl, but once ticked, it is the way the costume ideas around it are built that give us the Lagerfeld universe. So many arresting details come up in this edition of the Met Gala that you wonder if there was a Wintour at the back sitting with an Excel sheet and a curating plan to unfold a master class to the watching world.

Consider a few. Billie Eilish’s sheer Simone Rocha dress bedecked with onyx hairbands, black barrettes on very dressy braid while Lil Nas X, bats out of the field with his blindingly silver body paint, and a pearl-decked silver mask. Not much else. The arc stretches out far and wide—Florence Pugh brings her buzz cut perched under a Valentino crown of feathers. American rapper Doja Cat arrives in a custom Oscar de la Renta, but also custom made feline prosthetics (and a catty manicure to boot) living up to her name and celebrating Lagerfeld’s pet survivor, Choupette the cat.

As did actor Jared Leto, carrying a feathery fabric Choupette on his shoulder holding a padded paw up to wave to his fans. Actor-singer Jeremy Pope outdid them, did he, chugging in with a “train to Karl” behind him that made the cream carpet go pale with his funky audacity. The cream carpet by the way was made in Kerala and hand-painted in the US.


Cara Delevingne wearing Karl Lagerfeld.

Trains long and short, powdered hair, floral and bejewelled come out, as do pearls, whirls of fabric, blue and silver eye-shadows, all-eyes-on-me costumes, bridal dreams, glovettes, stilettos…. Check out Natasha Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India in a Schiaparelli costume; Priyanka Chopra Jonas in a Valentino gown, Kendall Jenner in a sequinned Marc Jacobs body suit, actor Alia Bhatt’s (disappointing debut appearance) in pearly Prabal Gurung, and actor Olivia Wilde and accessories designer Gabriela Hearst’s dress piano dresses.

Break down the outfits into pieces and you have a Karl Lagerfeld retrospective unfolding. A live extension almost of what the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum is currently showcasing, under head curator Andrew Bolton alongwith the style proclivities and not-so-secret dreams of the celebs. Take Rihanna, who has been lost in goddess-princess-bride-flower-nymph expressions and leans towards the bridal again, with a train and more.

Cara Delevingne got it “most” among the models, shall we say. A former Lagerfeld model who often closed the Chanel shows, she wore a plunging white mini dress, thigh-high leg warmers—designed by Lagerfeld and a shaggy bob that made her look sexy, Karl-esque and true to herself.


(Left) Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Valentino and Alia Bhatt in Prabal Gurung.
AFP/Mike Coppola

Business stories? Oh yes.

So Nepal to New York’s Prabal Gurung has dressed more celebs this time, than ever before. Alia Bhatt, Isha Ambani Piramal, Anok Yai, Quinta Brunson, Rita Ora, all wore Gurung. Now, watch out for the Rising Business of Prabal Gurung. Gucci’s once top leverage on red carpet is down but A$AP Rocky, Rihanna’s partner and rapper, made up for it, with multiple Gucci belts, a look straight off what Lagerfeld himself wore for the 2004 Chanel show in Paris. Tennis star Serena Williams did too as did Jessica Chastain. And if you are watching with bejewelled eyes, Tiffany, which reopened its re-done 10-storey store in New York last week put its jewels on Dua Lipa, Florence Pugh, Kate Moss and Williams. Lipa’s came with a big story. The necklace she wore with her black and white tweed dress that supermodel Claudia Schiffer once wore was paired with Tiffany’s New Legendary Diamond, more than 100 carats placed on the brand’s Lucida Star Necklace. It pays homage to the iconic yellow diamond from Tiffany. See the Venn diagrams here? Karl Lagerfeld x Chanel tweed dress x supermodel Claudia Schiffer x Tiffany…


Kim Kardashian in a Schiaparelli gown that was dripping with 50,000 pearls.

The word “iconic” is often used in lifestyle rumination and reportage, but seldom applicable to the many names it is pasted on, fits Lagerfeld’s line of beauty so well, that you wonder who designed it. And how much weight Karl Lagerfeld acquired in his lifetime of work and endless diets to fit into this so well.