Jennifer Lopez at the Met Gala 2024 in New York
Jennifer Lopez at the Met Gala 2024 in New York Image Credit: Reuters

From Bad Bunny's Tudor-inspired hat and shoes resembling cloven hooves to the hummingbird perched delicately on Zendaya's neck, the hosts set the tone at fashion's biggest night - the annual Met Gala in New York.

Florals, animals and vintage couture abounded at the so-called Oscars of the East Coast, a mammoth fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.

The extravaganza's dress code this year is "The Garden of Time" - which draws inspiration from the 1962 short story of the same name written by English writer J.G. Ballard.

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Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban at the Met Gala

In essence, it is about the ephemeral nature of beauty - a theme aptly demonstrated by South African singer Tyla.

Her strapless Balmain gown evoking the sands of time - right down to the hourglass purse - was sculpted so tightly to her body that security guards had to carry her up the steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Celebrity interpretation of Met Gala themes have been wide-ranging and often sparked social media debate - but attendees this year appeared to shrug off the pressure.

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Penelope Cruz at the Met Gala celebrations

"I don't even think there's pressure at all, I think it's more of an opportunity," actor Colman Domingo told journalists.

For sheer drama, co-hosts Bad Bunny, Zendaya and Jennifer Lopez commanded the red carpet.

Lopez's gown had a stiff, winged bodice before dramatically fishtailing out below the waist, with champagne sequins preserving her modesty.

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Jennifer Lopez at the Met Gala 2024

Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny evoked a kind of Tudor matador with a sweeping hat and a black bouquet, with the only pop of color his bright red inseam and the patent shine of his cloven shoes.

Zendaya's look had been among the most highly anticipated: The 27-year-old has become a red carpet icon during her most recent movie press tours, with cyborg fits for "Dune: Part Two" and courtside chic for the tennis-themed "Challengers."

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Zendaya goes futuristic at the Dune 2 premiere

For her first Met Gala since 2019 the star was wreathed in jewel-toned tulle and netting designed by John Galliano, with vines crawling up her body and arms and what appeared to be a hummingbird nestled into her neck.

'Mysterious and unexpected'

The theme parallels the exhibit "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion," which focuses on the most fragile pieces of the Costume Institute's vast collection.

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Actress Amanda Seyfried chose to shine at Met Gala 2024

The show, which will be on view to the public from May 10 through September 2, features clothing so delicate it cannot be displayed on mannequins.

The Costume Institute relies on the blockbuster Met Gala to fund its work, including exhibitions and acquisitions.

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Colombian singer Shakira at the 2024 Met Gala

The gala was first held in 1948 and for decades was reserved for New York high society. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, the high priestess of fashion, took over the show in the 1990s, transforming the party into a catwalk for the rich and famous.

This year, a ticket costs a cool $75,000, with tables starting at $350,000. The 2023 gala - which celebrated the late Karl Lagerfeld - raised nearly $22 million, a record sum.

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US singer Dove Cameron at the Met Gala 2024

But what exactly goes on inside is an enduring mystery.

"Something mysterious, I'm sure, and unexpected," actor Jeff Goldblum told journalists on the red carpet.

Guests are likely to peruse the exhibit, and stars such as Rihanna - whose command of the red carpet is usually unparalleled - have performed in the past.

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Twigs, Stella McCartney, Ed Sheeran and Cara Delevingne at Met Gala 2024 in New York

Social media frenzy

The spectacle is social media catnip for celebrity watchers - and once again, both the gala and the exhibit are co-sponsored by TikTok.

The tech world joined luminaries of music, film, politics and sports on the carpet, with TikTok CEO Shou Chew, also an honorary co-chair, in attendance.

The 41-year-old's appearance comes as the future of TikTok in the United States teeters on thin ice, just after President Joe Biden signed a bill demanding that ByteDance - the Chinese company behind the wildly popular video-sharing app - sell it off or go dark stateside.

Preparation for this year's Met Gala also included turmoil within, as workers at Conde Nast - which publishes Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, among other titles - threatened to walk off the job on the fete's eve as they bargained for a new contract.