Can the multitude, 750-strong, at the Costume Institute’s party of the year at the Metropolitan Museum say they came away humming from the gardenia-glutted, topiary-cluttered scenery? Of course they can. The museum was as verdant and beautiful as a summer bal à Versailles and as fragrant as the perfume of the same name.
I looked at the wilted gardenia I had brought home from the party, once so fresh and pristine, now curling brown at the edges. I smelled it. It was still redolent with an intoxicating scent. Maybe that’s the idea of these annual extravaganzas. The party’s over, but the fragrance lingers on.
The fete was a paean to the house of Chanel, celebrating the original Coco and her successor, Karl Lagerfeld. He was there in the flesh — now not as much as there once was (don’t tell me you haven’t heard of his famous diet?). This is the way he was dressed: His knee-high patent leather boots boasted military heels, the equestrian-themed jacket he so favored was worn with a high stiff-collared white shirt and a tiny black tie and — did you ever? — he wore fingerless, silver leather gloves. And that’s not all. A long diamond snake was pinned to his lapel and his trademark white powdered hair was pulled back as ever into his famous neat ponytail. It was all Karl, all the time.
That flowery introduction out of the way, let’s get on with it. Naturally there was more than one snob in the room who remarked, “This party is so enormous and crowded. Not anything like the way I remembered it when Diana Vreeland and Pat Buckley ran the show. There are so many people here it’s hard to tell the wheat from the chaff.” Not for me it isn’t.
Anyhow, Nicole Kidman was in the receiving line with Karl and Anna Wintour, all co-chairs. Nicole had poured herself into a midnight blue, strapless Chanel column made especially for her by Karl. Blue paillettes ran along the edges, down the middle and trimming her pockets. There was no way you could miss her. Anna wore a white satin Chanel dress and jacket embroidered with glittering crystal camellias. Although Anna chose not to wear her trademark glasses, Karl either borrowed hers or wore his own.
Among those pinpointed in the crush were Mercedes Bass, posing kittenishly for the photographers, in Oscar de la Renta’s black beauty with enormous flower cutouts that flowed from a tailored bodice to the floor and beyond. By her side were her friends Jayne Wrightsman in lacy white with long sleeves and Annette de la Renta in Oscar’s twinkling black fairy tale of a ballgown. Her daughter, Eliza Bolen, looked simply wonderful in maybe the best-looking dress in the whole place.
Buckley, who along with Vreeland oversaw the Costume Institute’s gala in its most glittering years, was elegant in black and Lily Safra was outstanding in a fitted black jacket with a long black chiffon and feather tiered skirt by Chanel and 18th-century flowered diamond earrings.
Carolina Herrera wore a snow-white taffeta blouse and a black pouf skirt made by Carolina Herrera. She had to rearrange the place cards at her table to move Lynn Wyatt, in a cream colored vintage Chanel, closer to her after Katie Holmes canceled at the eleventh hour, citing personal reasons believed to be related to her still wet-behind-the-ears relationship with Tom Cruise, but throwing Carolina’s table into disarray. Cornelia Guest, in from Los Angeles where she had just finished doing an independent movie, corralled her blonde mane into long waves and soft curls, slipped on her gumball-sized pearl and diamond earrings by Chopard and chose a pewter colored satin sheath with jeweled appliqués at the bodice by Badgley Mischka. Lauren Bush wore Ralph Lauren’s form-fitting black sheath with black beaded crisscross straps around her neck and waist. She arrived with Ralph Lauren’s daughter Dylan, who was wearing a white satin column with a plunging neckline. They were accompanied by Dylan’s brother David Lauren, who has been regularly and happily escorting Lauren Bush tither and thither.
Tinsley Mortimer wore a voluminous pale pink ballgown designed by 21-year-old Joe Cheng, which none other than Nicole Kidman complimented her on, not once, but twice. Kevin Costner’s wife, Christine, wore strapless silver by Ralph Lauren and Amanda Hearst was in a clinging cocoa-colored gown by Karl Lagerfeld.
Julia Koch looked beautiful in a white Grecian goddess gown with spaghetti straps by J. Mendel and Lisa Jackson wore a gold encrusted Vera Wang. Miuccia Prada wore a yellow and black dress and a whimsical black-and-white feather hat perched on the side of her head. Donna Karan was in a red ruched gown accented with that Lucite cane she’s still using since her skiing accident. Donatella Versace’s lovely daughter Allegra Beck was a beautiful young vision in pink trimmed with silver beading.
As for Natasha Richardson, she absolutely knocked them dead in a sweeping cream-colored ballgown with an enormous tulip hem by Vera Wang. Elle Macpherson swept up the Met’s staircase in an iridescent moss green dress by Calvin Klein and jeweled flip-flops. Other actresses wearing Calvin’s confections included Naomi Watts in pale blue ruffles and Claire Danes in flesh-colored chiffon with a black lace overlay and tiny pink bolero. Mary-Kate Olsen wore an off-white flapper dress that did nothing to enhance her slim frame and Ashley Olsen wore a gold lace cocktail dress with a billowing skirt by Oscar de la Renta. Even though the Olsen twins are almost 19, they hold hands as if they were still in the womb. They continue to look like little girls, waif-like enough to be dwarfed by their two bodyguards who look like they could crush them if the girls got caught between them in an awkward moment.
Carroll Petrie, who, along with her late husband, Milton, donated the Museum’s Petrie Court where the cocktail reception was held, arrived in pale pink embroidered chiffon, joining fellow guests Graydon Carter and his adorable fiancée, Anna Scott. And the glorious Silvia d’Arenberg, there with her husband, Pierre d’Arenberg, was without a doubt one of the most gorgeous women in the room, another being Arriana Boardman. Selma Blair, Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Paradis were all dressed by Chanel, but only Vanessa got caught in the rest room smoking a cigarette. Is that French?
Over 150 waiters and 50 toque-hatted chefs served up lobster, lamb and délice au chocolat topped with white sugar camellias purveyed by Glorious Foods. The ever-glamorous Renée Fleming, in glittering black, sang gems by Gustav Mahler accompanied by Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Many music lovers in the room wished they’d gone on forever. All in all, the evening raised over $3 million for the Costume Institute. And really, dahlings, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?