The Scene Inside the Met Gala

Kim Kardashian West.
Credit...Landon Nordeman for The New York Times

As the sages tell us, heavenly bodies compel every body: celebrity bodies, financial bodies, philanthropist bodies, political bodies. So it came to be that the first bodies spotted wandering around “Heavenly Bodies,” the spring show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose subject is “fashion and the Catholic imagination,” happened to be two of America’s most famous Mormons: Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann.

Mr. Romney said he hadn’t been entirely aware of the gala, the Costume Institute’s annual fund-raiser, and the undisputed highlight of the New York social calendar. “Ann said, ‘Are you kidding?’” He attended at the invitation of Stephen Schwarzman, an old friend and business associate, and one of the honorary chairmen of this year’s event.

Mr. Romney was wearing a Brioni tuxedo, size 40 long, that he had found — “Don’t you dare!” interrupted Mrs. Romney — on deep discount on Amazon.

The rest of the evening’s guests spared no such expense. In keeping with the theme, there were gowns crusted in pearls and embroidered so elaborately, so painstakingly, it was easy to imagine a quorum of stitchers somewhere, all gone stone blind. There were trains by the yard obstructing traffic, and a full complement of halos, wimples, tiaras and crowns.

And those were just on guests. The exhibition contained still more, filling the Medieval galleries with couture and priestly finery. Stephen Jones, the star milliner whose pieces featured throughout, was browsing with the young British designer Craig Green. They paused before a bedazzled miter created for one of John Galliano’s Dior Haute Couture collections. It had been worn, Mr. Jones recalled, in the show by a young model called Kevin and it went, apparently, to his head. Once you dress for that part, there’s no going back. “Kevin became a total diva after that,” Mr. Jones said.

In fashion, luckily, everyone is basically a diva already, and even the divas know the Met Gala is the occasion to go all in.

There were veiled princesses, like Kate Bosworth in Oscar de la Renta, who seemed delivered straight from the Renaissance, and tougher emissaries from Middle Ages, like Olivia Munn, in a gold chain mail H&M dress inspired by the Crusades. “It’s actually very comfortable,” she said.

“Imagining you on a horse is everything right now,” said Lily Collins, whose own Givenchy Haute Couture vibe was, as she put it, “chic nun.”

“I heard Katy Perry’s coming in on a horse,” Ms. Munn said.

But no, when Ms. Perry arrived, it was merely in a top-down Rolls-Royce, wearing a pair of angel wings so enormous that Salma Hayek dropped to her knees in front of the singer. “Touched by an angel!” Ms. Hayek cried, while her husband, François-Henri Pinault, snapped photos.

“Just a little understated thing,” Ms. Perry said. “Just a small, simple, understated thing.”

Rihanna, one of the evening’s chairwomen, came in a three-piece, gem-barnacled Maison Margiela outfit by Mr. Galliano. “When you’re going to host the Met, you have to go for the most,” she said. It took, the company said, 500 hours to embroider by hand, and weighed, Rihanna’s stylist Mel Ottenberg said, more even than the egg-yolk-yellow Guo Pei creation with an enormous train that she had worn three years ago at the “China: Through the Looking Glass” Met Gala. With her matching miter, she looked ready to assume the papacy, should the occasion arise. “You let me know when,” she said.

There was a hint of heresy in the air. (“I’m giving you Jewish Givenchy cardinal!” said the theater producer Jordan Roth, swinging the beaded fringe of his cardinal-red Givenchy Haute Couture.)

But the exhibition mostly skirted controversy. Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute, said he had reviewed his plans with Father James Martin, a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, who had found little cause for alarm.

“The Shaun Leane crown of thorns he thought might be tricky,” Mr. Bolton said, referring to the silver circlet that the London jewelry designer made for Alexander McQueen’s fall 1996 show. “The Gaultier piece with the chalice on the breast might be tricky. But there’s nothing terribly inflammatory. I was relieved and not relieved at the same time.”

He himself had worn black, with nary a cross or rosary in sight. “I should’ve worn red socks, shouldn’t I?” he said, but then, it’s hard to get fashion types out of basic black.

“Well, it’s monastic,” protested Dr. Lisa Airan, standing nearby.

The actual men of God roamed the exhibition, happily enraptured by treasures lent from the Vatican. “I could have stood and studied one of those chasubles forever,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “The passion of our Lord — magnificent!” (As for the high fashion arrayed around: “That I want to look at more closely,” Cardinal Dolan said.)

For the rest, there were cocktails, gala-circuit conversation (“Don’t I know you from…?” “ … Sloane’s house in the Hamptons!”) and lounging by the Temple of Dendur. Here, a more secular view prevailed. “I’m a devout atheist,” said the retailer and society fixture Lauren Santo Domingo.

The model Luka Sabbat was wearing a fabulously embroidered H&M coat that practically screamed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” but he didn’t catch the reference. “I think I’m too young for that,” he said. “Honestly, religion isn’t my strong point.” He was wearing a necklace with a pendant of the suffering Christ, but he’d given it his own spin with a barbed-wire chain.

“I was going to do a thorn chain,” he explained, “but I switched it up. I wanted to be more modern.”

The trumpets then begun to sound, though in this case, they were signaling dinnertime rather than Judgment Day.

But still the guests kept arriving. In trundled Lena Dunham in a gold gown by Ronald van der Kemp (“I said I wanted to look a little Joan of Arc-y but I think what’s happened is more of an ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ thing. I kept saying by way of Spencer’s Gifts, but no one got it”). Behind her was Nicki Minaj, in blood-red Oscar de la Renta. “Recently I’ve had a record called ‘Chun-Li’ and I was saying that I’m a bad guy,” she said. “So I think it makes perfect sense that I’m dressed tonight as the bad guy — the red devil.”

At the end, two Madonnas: the pop star herself, in a mantilla, and Cardi B, pregnant in Moschino, instructing the photographers on how best to capture her. “You know my nose spreading because I’m a little bit pregnant,” she warned.

“The Virgin Cardi,” said Jeremy Scott, the creative director of Moschino. “We wanted divinity, Catholic Church realness. A divine icon for a new generation.”

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