NEW YORK —
Never let it be said that Rihanna doesn't know how to make an entrance.
On a night when big stars were a dime a dozen - try George and Amal Clooney, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Cher - the pop singer still managed to pull the red carpet out from under the rest of them at the Met Gala on Monday when she swooped in wearing a fur-trimmed yellow cape with floral swirls of gold and a train so long it required three wranglers.
The ensemble came with a little pink mini-dress underneath, and a sparkling tiara. In keeping with the evening's theme - China, and its artistic influence on the West - the outfit came from Beijing-based designer Guo Pei, whose sumptuous designs also are on display in the current Metropolitan Museum exhibit, "China: Through the Looking Glass.''
As befitting a star - or fashion royalty - Rihanna commanded premium attention on the carpet by being one of the very last to arrive. But compared to another A-lister, she was an early-bird.
Beyonce and her husband, Jay Z, arrived so late that many photographers were giving up and leaving. She was highly photogenic, though, in an ultra-sheer, bejeweled Givenchy Haute Couture gown by Riccardo Tisci.
Deep, ruby reds, shimmery golds and other jewel tones dominated the color scheme as the multitudes of invited celebrities embraced this year's China inspiration. There were sequins aplenty, and embroidery was everywhere.
One of the first to arrive was the gala's longtime head, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who sported an orange-and-red floral couture gown from Chanel as she walked up the stairs to kick off the star-studded party that raises millions for the Met's Anna Wintour Costume Center.
She was followed by a succession of stars from film, music, fashion, TV and even sports unrivaled anywhere but perhaps the Oscars. As actress Kate Hudson noted: "It's like Oscar night for the fashion world, but without the pressure of who's going to get an award.'' Hudson was dressed in a sleek gown of gold sequins, by Michael Kors.
One of the biggest stars of the evening - and a surprise, until the last moment - was Cher, in an understated (relatively) sequined Marc Jacobs gown in gray and purple with a vaguely floral motif.
There were also a number of Chinese celebrities in attendance, perhaps chief among them actress Gong Li, who offered a girlish tilt of her head as she waved in a deep red velvet gown with black lace and a fan design. Celebrated film director Wong Kar Wai was there as the Met exhibit's artistic director.
Sarah Jessica Parker, who was one of the unqualified hits on last year's red carpet in elegant custom Oscar de la Renta, did not disappoint this time around, appearing in a towering red headpiece that resembled fiery flames. Designed by milliner Philip Treacy, the piece bore long red tassels on each side.
Parker paired it with a one-shoulder black gown embellished with sashes comprised of bits of vintage fabric and beads from Sweden - a collaboration with H&M and the company's Conscious Collection, which focuses on sustainable fabrics.
"We thought it told a great story, and also gave you ideas on how you could rethink what is important in your life and ways to reuse it again,'' Parker said.
Parker said she'd been working on the outfit since November, after getting "piecemeal clues'' from Wintour on what this year's theme might be.
One of the world's most watched women, Amal Clooney, arrived on her husband's arm in a tiered ruby-red gown by John Galliano for Maison Margiela.
And another widely watched woman, Lady Gaga, wore a huge kimono-like garment studded with feathers by Balenciaga. Gaga drew cheers when she waved to the crowd packed behind bleachers across Fifth Avenue from the museum.
Actress Kristen Wiig embraced the evening's color scheme, wearing a flowing yellow chiffon number by Prabal Gurung, who accompanied her on the carpet.
Jennifer Lopez bared a lot more skin in a red Versace gown with sheer side panels.
Kim Kardashian opted for sheer, too, in a white gown with a feathery train by Peter Dundas for Roberto Cavalli, the designer's first for the house. Little sister Kendall Jenner went with Calvin Klein, sparkling in green with sexy laces on each side. Mom Kris was there, too, in a bright red draped gown with a gold belt.
Anne Hathaway shimmered in a sleek hooded body-skimmer from Ralph Lauren. Her hair in a temporary bob, Katie Holmes took Zac Posen's arm in one of his designs, a sparkly blue gown with cutouts at the back.
Justin Bieber showed up in a black jacket slithering with gold dragons, by Balmain. A bird of paradise adorned the bottom of "Glee'' star Dianna Agron's one-shoulder Tory Burch gown.
Chinese actress Tang Wei glittered, literally, in a silver dress embedded with thousands of crystals. "I came here to see beauties,'' she said, "all the beautiful actresses.''
The guests all seemed aware of a new ban Wintour had placed on selfies inside. They seemed to be happy to go along with it.
"I think selfies can kind of cut into the moment and the fun,'' said Gabrielle Union, in purple Posen, accompanied by husband Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. "It's not that fun if you need to document the whole thing.''
"I can't tell you how liberating that is to hear,'' she said. "Remember when we used to just have these experiences and if we were lucky we captured them and so they'd be here [pointing to her head] and here [pointing to her heart]? I feel really happy about it frankly. We'll see who breaks the rule first.''