See the 10 Artworks We Like to Think Might Have Inspired the 2023 Met Gala’s Most Sensational Red-Carpet Looks

The Costume Institute's "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty" opens at the Metropolitan Museum this week.

Left: Rihanna in a camellia-shaped dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino. Right: Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 at Tate Modern in London, England. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

There is hardly a name more synonymous with fashion than Karl Lagerfeld, the German-born couturier best known for his decades-long, simultaneous tenures at Chanel and Fendi. The pony-tailed potentate is remembered for his high-octane collections that blended monochromatic modernism with sweeping romanticism.

His personal style was just as exacting: crisp high-collar shirts pinned with a pearl and accented with dark shades and a fan. In his later years, he was rarely seen without his feline companion, a Birman cat named Choupette.

All of this made for an electric, pearlescent, and furry Met Gala, the opening soiree of the Costume Institute’s spring fashion exhibition “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” opening to the public this Friday, May 5, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The show spotlights his era-defining creations from the 1950s until his final collection in 2019.

Attendees were instructed to dress “in honor of Karl,” which left plenty of room for interpretation. Here are our favorite looks, alongside the great works of art we like to think inspired them.

 

Jared Leto

 Left: Jared Leto, dressed as Choupette, attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. Right: Pierre Bonnard, The White Cat (1894). Collection of the Musee d’Orsay.

Left: Jared Leto, dressed as Choupette, attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. Right: Pierre Bonnard, The White Cat (1894). Collection of the Musee d’Orsay.

Talk about a catwalk! All eyes were captivated when a figure in a white fluffy cat costume materialized on the red carpet—a humorous tribute to Choupette, Lagerfeld’s beloved feline friend, no doubt. Moments later,  Jared Leto unmasked himself as the furry in disguise (gala-favorite Leto holding his cat mask was a strange parallel to his 2019 look, when he carried a replica of his own head). But for all the kitten around, we couldn’t help but think of Pierre Bonnard’s famed The White Cat (1894) in the collection of Musée d’Orsay. With its elongated limbs and winking Cheshire grin, this Impressionist cat appears both wild and elegant, humorous and fancy—the perfect Lagerfeld vision.

 

Yara Shahidi

Left: Yara Shahidi attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by John Shearer/WireImage. Right: Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1486–87). Collection of the Uffizi.

Left: Yara Shahidi attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: John Shearer/WireImage. Right: Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (1486–87). Collection of the Uffizi.

Actress Yara Shahidi is set to star as Tinker Bell on the silver screen, but with tonight’s red-carpet look, she was decidedly more Venus on the half-shell. Lagerfeld’s passion for pearls was on full display, in looks worn by Lizzo, Kim Kardashian, and many others. But Shahidi’s ​​opalescent corset with inlaid shells from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s spring-summer 2008 collection brought to mind Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and the oceanic origins of the jewel. Even the accentuated hips of the dress echoed the Renaissance clamshell form. 

 

Rihanna

Left: Rihanna in a camellia-shaped dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino. Right: Georgia O'Keeffe, <em>Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1</em> at Tate Modern in London, England. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

Left: Rihanna in a camellia-shaped dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino. Right: Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 at Tate Modern in London, England. Photo: Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

You can practically hear Rihanna’s stylist whispering in her ear, “You should walk the Met Gala carpet as a giant white camellia. It was Coco Chanel’s favorite flower!” And that’s exactly what she did, cocooned in a custom Valentino silk faille dress and cape covered in 30 large camellias made from 500 petals. (Note, too, the large lashes on her cat-eye sunglasses, à la Choupette.) But was she inspired by Coco or was she channeling Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1? In 2014, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe auctioned the painting for $44 million, more than tripling the previous world auction record for a female artist—not unlike Rihanna’s own trailblazing career.

 

Janelle Monáe

Left: Janelle Monáe attends the 2023 Met Gala. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Karl Lagerfeld). Right: Costumes by Oskar Schlemmer (Bauhaus) for Ballet Triadique at Metropol theater in Berlin, original photo by Ernst Schneider in 1926. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Top: Costumes by Oskar Schlemmer (Bauhaus) for Ballet Triadique at Metropol Theater in Berlin. Original photo by Ernst Schneider in 1926; photo by Apic/Getty Images. Bottom: Janelle Monáe attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Karl Lagerfeld.

Janelle Monáe not only wore their cone-shaped look by Thom Browne to the Met Gala, they performed it too, removing each layer of the black and white oversized coat until they reached the pearl-encrusted inner boning. Hmmm, was someone on Team Monáe watching old clips of the Bauhaus Ballet, also known as the Triadic Ballet? Created and costume-designed in the 1920s by Oskar Schlemmer, German artist and teacher at the Bauhaus school, the ballet remains one of the most influential works of modern dance.

 

David Byrne

Left: David Burne. Right: Marcel Duchamp, <em>Bicycle Wheel</em> at MoMA in 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Left: David Byrne and the bicycle he rode in on. Right: Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel (1913), at New York’s MoMA in 2020. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

There’s a lot riding on a memorable Met Gala entrance. Knowing this, musician David Byrne—of Talking Heads fame—pedaled himself to the museum and rolled in with his bicycle in tow. For a modern-day Dadaist like Byrne, the impulse to do so may well have come from Marcel Duchamp, the original Dadaist who, seeking to challenge norms and elevate the ordinary, constructed his seminal readymade Bicycle Wheel in 1913. Both artists are known for their stuntery, but Byrne is a genuine advocate of cycling, even writing the book Bicycle Diaries and designing bike racks for New York City. As for the white suit, the snazzy two-piece was tailored by Martin Greenfield Clothiers of Brooklyn, and it’s the same suit Byrne wore on the Oscars stage to perform his song This is a Life from the film Everything Everywhere All at Once.

 

Anok Yai

Left: Anok Yai attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue. Right: Tiffany Studios 18-light Lily table lamp (ca. 1900). Photo: Courtesy of Macklowe Gallery.

Left: Anok Yai attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue. Right: Tiffany Studios 18-light Lily table lamp (ca. 1900). Photo: Courtesy of Macklowe Gallery.

The supermodel Anok Yai turned heads in a sequined Prabal Gurung number as effervescent as a glass of Champagne. It featured a sculpted gold bodice that gave way to an umbrella-like peplum trailing silver strands, calling to mind an intergalactic jellyfish—or, perhaps, a Louis Comfort Tiffany design in favrile glass, of which the Met holds many prime examples. Tiffany originated the favrile technique—which embeds coloring in the glass itself to impart an iridescent sheen—in 1894 and applied it to both freeform objets and leaded-glass lamps and window panels. The glass’s superior plasticity lent itself to the development of sinuous new shapes during the Art Nouveau period.

 

Emily Ratajkowski

Left: Emily Ratajkowski at the 2023 Met Gala. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue). Right: Ruth Asawa, <em>Untitled [S.531]</em> at the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. (Photo by Calla Kessler/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Left: Emily Ratajkowski at the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue. Right: Ruth Asawa, Untitled [S.531], at the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Photo: Calla Kessler/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Emily Ratajkowski’s netted nude Tory Burch gown brought a whiff of Gatsby-esque glam. The plunging mermaid shape was traced with silver webbing that faintly echoed the painstakingly woven wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa—a fittingly feminist choice. Trained at Black Mountain College, the modernist artist’s modus operandi was inspired by a trip to Mexico, where a craftsman taught her a basket-weaving technique that she then applied to graceful, non-functional objects—often suspended and slightly spinning. Asawa brought a conceptualist’s rigor to her entire practice, and “Through Line,” the first exhibition to study the artist’s drawings and their relationship to the sculptures, goes on view in September at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

 

Michaela Coel

Left: Michaela Coel attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue. Right: Madelle Hegeler shows off weirdly striking jewelry by Salvador Dalí in New York, 1959. Photo Bettman via Getty Images.

Left: Michaela Coel attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue. Right: Madelle Hegeler shows off striking jewelry by Salvador Dalí in New York, 1959. Photo: Bettman via Getty Images.

Actress and Met Gala co-chair Michaela Coel dazzled in a custom Schiaparelli dress dripping with handcrafted bijoux inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s costume jewelry creations—but also, it would seem, the surreal designs crafted by Schiaparelli’s friend and collaborator, Salvador Dalí.

 

Lil Nas X

Left: Lil Nas X attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. Right: Barberini Faun, a sleeping satyr (circa 220 B.C.E.) Collection of the Glyptothek, Munich. Photo by: PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Left: Lil Nas X attends the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. Right: Barberini Faun, a sleeping satyr (ca. 220 B.C.E.) from the collection of the Glyptothek, Munich. Photo: PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Fashion-forward rapper Lil Nas X was a tony Tin Man in a showstopper look of silver body paint and jewels courtesy of makeup legend Pat McGrath. The resplendent and revealing look brought to mind the famous Barberini Faun, a lifesize classical depiction of a satyr in intoxicated repose now in the collection of the Glyptothek in Munich. The sculpture is one of the most enduring depictions of male sensual beauty, which Lil Nas X here encapsulated with a contemporary spin on the classical world.

 

The Not-Red Carpet

Left: Met Gala carpet. Right: Brice Marden, <em>The Attended</em>, at a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art in New York in 2013. (Photo EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Left: the Met Gala carpet. Right: Brice Marden, The Attended, at a Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art in New York in 2013. Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images.

Following the trend of red carpets that aren’t, uh, red, last night the Met rolled out a creamy stair-saver striped with undulating ribbons of blue and red that appeared to have little to do with Lagerfeld’s signature shades. In fact, the internet hordes immediately pounced on its resemblance to toothpaste—the New York Post’s Instagram account proclaimed, “It’s giving Colgate Triple Action”—but might we humbly suggest another analogue in Brice Marden’s later paintings? The American artist has long subsumed various references—Greek architecture, Asian calligraphy into his minimalistic canvases. By the end of the night, the fancy footfall may well have left the runner mimicking Marden’s gray background.


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