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The Met Gala's flowery theme went in all directions

Brie Larson attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" exhibition on Monday, May 6, 2024, in New York. (Photos by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Who won the Met Gala? Nature and its many blooms, along with some far-flung princesses.

It was anybody's guess exactly how the celebrity crowd on the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art would interpret the “Garden of Time” dress code Monday at the annual fashion extravaganza after last year's uber-specific homage to Karl Lagerfeld.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how many people seemed to really embrace the theme this year,” said Jonathan Evans, style director for Esquire.

Granted, there was a lot of leeway in the word “garden,” he said, but “giving attendees that low-hanging fruit, pun absolutely intended, is a good way to encourage people to stop worrying and have a little more fun with things.”

And go for it they did in looks all things flora and fauna that mostly stayed on the rails, Lana Del Rey's tree dress complete with branches high overhead being one of the exceptions.

It was a squishy assignment since the dress code is meant to herald the museum's Costume Institute spring exhibit: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” The sleeping beauties of the museum show, however, aren't at all Disney or “Wicked” or humans of any kind. They're some of the fragile items plucked from the institute's fashion archive and “reawakened” for the exhibit, but that didn't stop more than a few on the A-list from providing moments of fairy tale dressing.

“The nod to the fairy tale was a huge motif with Lana Del Rey channeling ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Brie Larson’s hourglass-inspired dress, but there was also an element of fantasy in nature via Zendaya’s transformation into a flapper peacock, Demi Moore’s orchid-shaped floral gown and Nicole Kidman’s black swan ensemble,” said Madeline Hirsch, InStyle's news director.

“Fantasy, romance and nature weaved together in many of the best looks of the night, and the carpet turned out to be more cohesive visually than I anticipated,” she said.

Among the big gowns (Cardi B) and garden takes (Zendaya and so many more) were other flower moments that earned their camera sun.

“Designer Christian Cowan and Sam Smith won cutest couple in looks inspired by Oscar Wilde and the English rose. Christian was in cream and Sam was in black organza with coordinated oversized metal-plated roses that kept both of their jackets closed and our minds open,” said stylist and independent brand consultant Larry Curran.

And some of the stars didn't forget the people who dressed, and in many cases, hosted them for the party that raises the bulk of the Costume Institute's budget each year.

“Gigi Hadid gave her flowers to the team at Thom Browne by breathlessly thanking them on the red carpet for creating a one of a kind stunner that comprised about 3 million beads and took 5,000 hours to make,” Curran said. “Serving old Hollywood glamour, it was hard not to smile as she gave credit to the often overlooked craftsmen that drive the fashion industry, and she looked gorgeous doing it.”

Loewe, one of the gala's sponsors, hit it big by dressing the evening's mastermind, Anna Wintour, in a black coat adorned with blooms. There were other big wins for Loewe, but Zendaya provided a double-punch of fashion goodness made by a different name.

In a rare twist, she walked twice, changing into a John Galliano spring 1996 Givenchy Haute Couture look in black to close the carpet. The huge gown, with a flower-stuffed hat from 2007 Alexander McQueen, came after she walked as a co-chair of the evening in custom Maison Margiela Artisanal, also by Galliano.

“Zendaya would’ve been my best dressed based on her first look alone. When she surprised everyone by changing, she not only won the night but earned a place in Met Gala history for her fashion double down,” said Andrea Lavinthal, the style and beauty director for People.

Tiffany Reid, senior vice president of fashion for Bustle, The Zoe Report, Nylon and more, lauded the Balmain look of Tyla as a great example of the theme done right.

“Tyla won the carpet, a true play on the garden of time,” she said of the body molded look made of actual sand. “The hourglass sand bag complemented the sand-treated dress and was the icing on the cake, not to mention the theatrics of her ‘walk’ on the carpet.”

Tyla's team carried her up the stairs.

Fashion fans, said Town & Country editor in chief Stellene Volandes, likely couldn't care less how well their favorites did in stepping up to the theme. Take Zendaya, for instance.

“She looked beautiful in two looks that touched on the theme of the night and of the exhibit but even if she hadn’t the people watching would have still been screaming her name,” Volandes said.

The “Garden of Time” theme was inspired by an obscure J.G. Ballard short story first published in 1962. It's about a count and countess whiling away their days in a secluded villa surrounded by a garden as a horde of rabble rousers approaches. He reverses time with the last of some magical flowers in the garden, until the last bloom is plucked and the mob descends.

On one level, it wasn't a bad match for the gala crowd strutting in its finest floral splendor as protesters against Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas attempted to march to the museum. On another plain, it was just, well, fashion.

“The problem with interpreting a theme based on a story about class struggle, the fragility of beauty and the inevitable ravages of time is it requires that someone actually read it,” said Hal Rubenstein, a designer, founding editor of InStyle and author of “Dressing the Part: Television's Most Stylish Shows.”

“Well, that obviously didn’t happen. So, with rare exceptions, an impressively star-packed staircase featured a lot of intricately embroidered and beaded gowns covered in flowers. As Miranda Priestly says in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’: ‘Florals, for spring. Groundbreaking.’”

Bianca Betancourt, digital culture editor for Harper's Bazaar, saw three major fashion themes through the evening: florals, vintage and lots of gothic romanticism. That, she said, “meant almost every guest seemed as if they were going to the world's most over-the-top tea party.”

Zendaya's looks were darker than usual to push the drama and theatrics, Betancourt said, and Cardi B's massive black tulle grown swallowed nearly the entire carpet.

"Some guests, like Doja Cat, took a more conceptual route for the theme, where she chose to wear a wet white T-shirt gown by Vetements since cotton is the world’s most popular and picked flower. Tyla also played around with the theme, opting for a sandy body cast gown by Balmain, leaning into the concept of time and turning herself into a stunning human hourglass,” she added.

Wintour saw pitfalls, telling Jenna Bush Hager on “Today” before the gala: “This exhibition broke my cardinal rule. When we came up with the title ‘Sleeping Beauties,’ it’s wonderful and poetic and romantic, but it actually could be many, many things.”

When she went to the Costume Institute curator, Andrew Bolton, for dress code advice, the conversation went like this:

“I said, ‘What are we gonna say to people to wear to this night?’ And he said, ‘Well, what about ‘Garden of Time?’ So I fear that we’ve unleashed a lot of confusion out there, for which I deeply apologize. I imagine we'll see a lot of flowers.”

All's well that end's well, Anna.

Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

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