I synthesized 2,061 Getty red-carpet photos from last night's Met Ball fêting the opening of the Met's "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" show into an all-time ultimate Top Three. Let's break it down.
BEST LOOK THE FIRST: Rihanna wore a skintight, floor-length Tom Ford dress. The fabric reminded me of Givenchy's spring 2012 couture collection, for which Riccardo Tisci and his atelier created gowns made of tanned crocodile hide that had been cut out, scale by scale, and sewn onto a silk tulle backing. The result: a crocodile leather dress that skims the body and moves with its wearer. Stretchy crocodile. I can't tell from these pictures, but I'd wager Ford's fall-winter 2012 construction employed a similar technique; this dress can't be made of crocodile leather alone, which would have bunched and rippled as Rihanna moved. (c.f. Rosario Dawson's Met Ball dress, which practically squeaked like a car seat in every photo — and it was made of regular leather, not even croc.) Tisci told the press that his method took over 350 hours to create a single dress. Rihanna looks like a beautiful and dangerous reptile. The thing about a dress this simple is that every single element has to be just right. When there are no big design features to distract the eye — no showy peplums, no eye-catching neckline, no asymmetrical this or that — all you see is fit and line. And what a fit. What a line. A++ for the simple hair and perfect black manicure and accessories.
BEST LOOK THE SECOND: Kirsten Dunst looks dressed and ready to ring in 1932 in her orange-and-cream suit and curls. Some people might think this is a little kooky for a red-carpet event. Those people are wrong. Dunst's dress is beautiful, and more importantly, it's different. The world really does not need another strapless ballgown with a full skirt. Most stars' formal wear seems to be assembled from a laundry list of design features: you see them and you think, "Mermaid skirt, check. Sequined, check. Sheer panels, check." The "originality" lies in the con- and re-configuration of the same dozen or so elements, like some come-to-life version of those "Fashion Plates" kiddie tracing toys. This suit? It's startling precisely because it's a rarity. Burnt sienna is a beautiful color for Dunst's complexion. The soft construction nonetheless keeps her from looking too much like she headed here straight from an office job; look how that jacket drapes. The leather belt keeps the whole thing from veering into the territory of costume. Most of all, Dunst's look suggests that there are values possible in ladies' evening wear besides presenting the viewer with as much skin and sex as possible. That it's possible to look alluring without looking "hot."
BEST LOOK THE THIRD: Don't you just want to put on Diane Kruger's purple chiffon-and-feathers gown and twirl around and around in it? She is totally going to have the most fun tonight. I love that there's nothing constricting in her look. No fussy belts that become instantly too-tight when you sit down for dinner. No straplessness to worry about as you raise your arms on the dance floor. No plunging neckline to gape as you bend down to fix your shoe. Kruger looks appropriately formal for the event, but also like she's making a point at the expense of — or perhaps just representing a different value system than — all the ladies who poured themselves into their $10k borrowed dresses last night. Extra points for the amethyst necklace.
BONUS ROUND: Anna Wintour. Our lady of Vogue has worn some certifiably weird shit to the Met Ball before — Chanel couture ram-horn/crustacean-encrusted superhero dress, I'm looking at you — but in the name of credit where credit is due: this year Wintour nailed it. She wore a dress by the event sponsor, Prada, that was designed in homage to perhaps the most famous Schiaparelli dress of all time, the "lobster" dress that Schiap designed with Salvador Dali. Dali saw the lobster as a symbol of female desire — women, in Dali's view, being threatening creatures that know how to get their claws into you. Wallis Simpson wore the lobster dress for Cecil Beaton when she posed for one of the most stone-cold bad-ass Vogue photos in the history of stone-cold bad-ass Vogue photos. Winning reference, winning fashion history, winning dress. Anna Wintour is best-dressed. Q.E.D.
HONORABLE MENTION: Coco Rocha, for scoring Givenchy couture owned by Elizabeth Taylor for fucking $3250. Karolina Kurkova, for services to turbans. Solange Knowles, for geometry. Carey Mulligan, for reflectivity. Kristen Stewart, for looking like an extra in a Robert Palmer video. Linda Fargo, for wearing a golden god. Jessica Biel, for the color lime. And Linda Evangelista, for showing how it is done.