Byline: Aileen Mehle

The Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala has become, willy-nilly, the Oscars of New York, with stars of all sorts and fashionistas of every stripe competing for the attention of the horde of paparazzi, which grows greater every year. And were you at the Metropolitan Museum Monday night for the big, huge, immense, massive, enormous, tremendous, gargantuan, gigantic gala celebrating the exhibit “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years”? Well, if you weren’t, you were the only one.
Some say at least 900 — some say really 820 — guests at $3,500 a head, gasp, swept into the dinner (consomme with caviar, beef Wellington, champagne sorbet provided by Glorious Food). More than 2,000 others, at $300 a pop, some of them dressed to scare, some looking quite chic, pushed in afterward for dessert and dancing, but primarily to gawk. At least $3 million was raised for the Institute, the biggest take ever, and remember, that’s the idea. Whatever the ticket price, you can’t keep them out if they want to get in. And if the exclusive feeling and look, that atmosphere of perfumed privilege that once prevailed at these annual parties when Diana Vreeland and later Pat Buckley ran the show, is gone forever — and it is — then one must change along with the prevailing fashion and corporate winds — or stay home. As the throng at this latest of divertissements proved, the latter is not bloody likely. Face it. Today, moneywise, the crowd’s the thing.
Laura Bush, pretty in ladylike off-white, dropped in for cocktails and a photo op and dropped right out again. That was the way she planned it herself right from the beginning. Hillary Clinton came for dinner and stayed for dinner. Their paths never crossed. It was as simple as that. Forget the underground rumblings.
Hillary, seated with Oscar and Annette de la Renta, wore Oscar’s leopard-printed ballgown and stole. No husband. He’s been staying with the de la Rentas at their house in the Dominican Republic lately, so maybe it was Hill’s turn with the “Dellas,” as their chums who adore them call Oscar and Annette. Annette herself was enchanting in a yellow satin Balmain (designed by Oscar, as if you didn’t know) under a blue satin opera cloak. Jayne Wrightsman’s dress — she was at the same table — was feathered and sequined and quite flirtatious. Honestly.
Of course, the evening belonged to the Kennedys and they were out and unmissable. It was Caroline Kennedy’s night and she looked marvelous in a white satin, semi-backless Carolina Herrera column and some of the jewels that Jackie left her, diamond earrings from Harry Winston and two diamond clips President Kennedy gave her mother. Her dress was very Jackie-like, updated a bit, simple and beautiful. She also knows how to give a speech, short and very to-the-point, encouraging everyone to bring a child to the exhibition and to relate to them what they remembered of the Camelot years. About the big bruise on her left shoulder, she got it when she fell rollerblading with her children on Sunday afternoon. Is she a Kennedy or what?
As for the beautiful Herrera women, Carolina and her daughter Patricia, they quite naturally wore Herreras, mummy in a black and white paillette jacket, and Patricia in a fantastic feather one, made, as her mother said, “From pheasants, chickens, roosters, turkeys and maybe a pigeon.” Come on. She was just kidding.
Mrs. Teddy (Victoria) Kennedy wore red lace, and Caroline’s cousin, Maria Shriver, did up her Kennedy hair and bared her shoulders to good effect. Jackie’s sister, Lee Radziwill, was all in white embroidered in white beads. One could hardly say there was a plethora of movie stars or near-stars present, but there were enough to go around. Some people think there are always enough to go around.
Renee Zellweger, in a vintage Oleg Cassini, certainly went around, table-hopping and crinkling her eyes at the crowd. She is everyone’s adorable new favorite, a pocket-Venus sexpot who walks better than anyone and can also act. Then there were Gwyneth Paltrow dressed by Calvin Klein, Joan Allen, Faith Hill, Andie MacDowell, Anjelica Huston, Sigourney Weaver, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore and Liv Tyler, dressed by Marc Jacobs and led around by Stella McCartney wearing deep red with her pretty boobs out. As a devilishly clever British chap, looking Miss McCartney over, remarked, “My, my, my, they deserve to be out.” Or maybe he said just two “my, my’s.” Do you think there will always be an England?
Before we get too far along — kudos to Hamish Bowles of the Vogue Bowleses, who artistically directed the entire exhibition to great acclaim. It was wonderfully thought out and executed, and it was lovely to see Jackie’s actual clothes, beige pillbox, snappy red coat and lush evening dresses in color after all those old black and white photographs. And deep bows to Robert Isabell, who made the museum’s rooms and dining tables look wonderful and spring-like, using every pastel twulip in the world, maybe.
So who else was there? Such standouts as Princess Marie Chantal of Greece in a turquoise Valentino bordered in diamonds — well, almost-diamonds. (Valentino, there with his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, also dressed the two Boardman sisters, Serena and Samantha, Elle MacPherson, Libet Johnson, Tory Burch, Countess Georgina and Rena Sindi). Then there was Anna Wintour, one of the chairs of the evening, in an ivory Chanel. Blaine Trump in strapless beaded in the same color. Also Julia Koch, Aerin and Jane Lauder, Anne Bass, Christy Turlington, Pat Buckley in a black dress Boldini might have painted her in, C.Z. Guest in a white dress and turban Oscar made especially for her, Emilia Fanjul in a black de la Renta, Deeda Blair in a navy blue Chanel with gumball-sized pearls and Winston’s diamond and sapphire earrings, Martha Stewart in beige sequins, Diane Sawyer, fabulous in a strapless Susan Dell beauty embroidered with yellow sapphire beads and on and on into the night. Renee Fleming in a black Gianfranco Ferre sang for the crowd. The great lady of the evening was Bunny Mellon, Jackie’s best friend, who was in just for the night to honor Jackie. Her favorite designer has always been her great friend Hubert de Givenchy, and there she was in a beautiful red and black dress he made for her 30 years ago worn with jewels by her other great friend Jean Schlumberger.
Oleg Cassini, who dressed Jackie when she was in the White House, sported a black cane due to a little love kick from one of his horses. He pronounced the show “beautiful.”
And that’s all, folks.