ENTERTAINMENT

Inside the Met Gala: A fairytale forest, woodland creatures, and some starstuck first-timers

May 7, 2024, 3:20 PM | Updated: 3:25 pm

Zendaya attends The 2024 Met Gala Celebrating "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" at The Metro...

Zendaya attends The 2024 Met Gala Celebrating "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

NEW YORK (AP) — Sauntering through the hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the way to cocktails, James Corden spread his arms out comically, like he owned the place. “Let me know if you want me to talk you through any of this,” he said, pointing to the precious art on the walls, joking around with Jeff Bezos and his partner Lauren Sánchez, who happened to be walking behind him.

It was all in fun, but Corden, like many celebrities, is a Met Gala regular.

Then there are the first-timers. These guests, no matter how famous in their field, often profess a bit of starstruck wonder at the concentration of celebrity around them, and even some nerves, like a kid arriving at a new school.

For example: Stray Kids. The K-pop band arrived at their first gala en masse, all eight dressed by designer Tommy Hilfiger in different iterations of red, navy and white. Entering the museum they ascended the grand interior staircase, hit the receiving line, and then headed to cocktails, where, they said, they slowly started to relax.

“We were nervous at first.” said band number Bang Chan. “We didn’t know what to expect, who we would meet,” added bandmate Felix. But they were settling in nicely, and had already spoken to Chris Hemsworth, Steven Yeun and Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons.

Then there was Ayo Edebiri, star of “The Bear,” who has been a multiple winner on the awards circuit this year but was attending her first gala. She seemed almost out of breath after greeting hosts Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny, Hemsworth and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who was overseeing the whole affair as always, at the top of the stairs.

“I’m really, really, really excited to be here,” she said. “This is another really beautiful thing that I will try to do my best to remember.” Dressed in a lacy floral gown by Loewe, one of the evening’s sponsors along with TikTok, Edebiri headed off to cocktails in the airy Charles Engelhard Court in the museum’s American wing.

What with the usual commotion outside on the carpet, guests were initially slow to trickle in, leaving the receiving line with little to do in the early moments (Lopez and Bad Bunny snapped a few joint selfies.)

Among the early birds were Australian director Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin, who served as creative advisers for the evening. They both spoke passionately about the gala’s function as a fundraiser for the Costume Institute and its benefit to the museum overall — not to mention the potential of drawing young people around the globe, who Luhrmann noted were watching the carpet online, to the arts. Met officials said Tuesday the evening had raised more than $26 million, a record and an enormous sum for a fundraiser.

Some other memorable moments and scenes from inside the gala:

A MAGICAL FOREST

Though the name of the party’s accompanying exhibit was “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion,” it wasn’t really about Princess Aurora from our fairytales. Rather, it was about highlighting and illuminating fragile garments from the museum’s collection that were now being “awakened” to the world. Still, it’s safe to say the museum went all in on the fairytale vibe.

Entering the Great Hall, guests passed a huge centerpiece, 32 feet tall, representing a “whimsical tree.” Huge green flowers made of fabric sprouted over a forest-like undergrowth with twisted branches that looked just like the foliage Sleeping Beauty’s prince had to hack through to give her a true love’s kiss. Guests then walked through a live string orchestra and a tableau of performers dressed as woodland creatures — in tunics and tights — frolicking in the forest.

FASHION AS ART

Given the choice of viewing the exhibit or heading straight to cocktails, most guests chose the latter. But some did head to the show, a multi-sensory fashion experience involving not only sight but sound, smell and touch. Lena Waithe spent time alone inspecting the garments, and said she was “just blown away by the work that I’m seeing.”

The actor/producer added that she, as many, often thinks of fashion as fun and light. “But then I come here and am reminded that it’s an art form,” she said. And she recalled a speech Meryl Streep, as a Wintour-like character, makes to Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada,” about the clothes we wear having been chosen for us. “I think we need to be reminded of that, that our style is influenced by people who are long gone,” Waithe said.

SETH MEYERS STAYS IN HIS LANE

Late-night host Meyers, attending the gala with wife, said it was a nice break to get an evening away from childcare. But he also jokingly asked why his little ones — ages 8, 6 and 2 — weren’t invited. “I think it’s very rude that Vogue didn’t invite them,” Meyers quipped. “It’s so kid-friendly here. And they’re so good at keeping their mitts off things.”

Meyers said what he most enjoyed abut the gala was seeing “a lot of people that I’m a fan of, or have interviewed on the show.” But as for fashion, he likes to play it straight, he said: ”Nobody wants a guy like me taking a big swing. I stay in my lane.”

THE BROADWAY CROWD

There’s always a strong Broadway contingent at the Met Gala, because Wintour is a huge theater fan. At this gala, Jonathan Groff, fresh off a Tony nomination for “Merrily We Roll Along,” laughed and joked with good friend and fellow “Glee” alum (and “Funny Girl” star) Lea Michele, expecting her second child and resplendent in baby blue Rodarte. Groff reminisced about former Met Galas he’s attended, including one where he performed from the show “Hair,” and another in 2016 where guest Beyoncé had just released “Lemonade” about a week earlier. “That,” he recalled, “was epic.”

‘LITTLE ME WOULD BE SO HAPPY’

A table away sat another Broadway star, J. Harrison Ghee. Last year Ghee attended their first gala, a month or so before winning the Tony for best actor in “Some Like it Hot.” Ghee wore a dramatic feathered look by designer Howie B inspired, they said, by a caddis worm — perfectly in sync with the nature theme of the evening. The night, Ghee said, was proof that fashion was a vital and expressive art. And they added; “Little me would be so happy. I check in with them all the time — would they be proud? They would.”

A DRESS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS (BROKEN) PARTS

As Sánchez and Bezos toured the exhibit, her distinctive dress made an equally distinctive noise as it scraped across the floor. “We won’t lose you,” joked Bezos. Sánchez said she had burst into tears when she first tried on the eye-popping design by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim of Oscar de la Renta. The voluminous skirt had pearl and mirrored appliques and was meant to evoke Tiffany glass. “If you need a mirror just use my dress,” Sánchez quipped. She added that she felt the dress symbolized life — where everything is a bit broken, and it depends on what you do with the pieces. And she was misty-eyed when she described trying the dress on for Bezos: “He told me I had never looked so beautiful,” she said.

Fun fact: Sánchez said Garcia had told her he needed an item to fix the dress, and had ordered it on Amazon.

A CLARION CALL TO DINNER

How do you get hundreds of chatting celebrities to hike across the museum for dinner? Organizers have tried a number of ways. One year, it was a team of buglers. Another year, Jon Batiste and his melodica led a band snaking through the crowd. Last year, David Byrne did the honors. On Monday it was a huge choir that emerged, singing original music entitled “Future of Us,” accompanied by dancers. Then a bell rang, and the performers called out: “To dinner!” And off the crowd went — slowly — to the Temple of Dendur, where the fairytale motif continued with tables featuring “enchanted candelabras entwined with flower arrangements.”

WHAT’S TO EAT?

Arriving late is still fashionable; Some guests were still arriving at 9 p.m. and even much later. But for those who made it for dinnertime, here’s what was on the menu: a main course of filet of beef, pea tortellini, morels and spring vegetables, followed by a dessert of petits fours inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairytale of, yep, “Sleeping Beauty” — along with confections “in the shape of bespoke hats.”

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Inside the Met Gala: A fairytale forest, woodland creatures, and some starstuck first-timers