Met Gala 2018 explores fashion’s engagement with the traditions of Catholicism

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

10-May-2018  |  6 mins read

This monday marked the 70th anniversary of the annually held Met Gala in New York City.

Since 1948, the first Monday of May has been reserved for The Costume Institute Gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as it engages a social dialogue between fashion and art. Dubbed as the Met Gala, the event was founded by publicist Eleanor Lambert, in an effort to encourage donations from New York’s high society. The event is deemed as the biggest fundraiser on the international fashion calendar with figures hitting a whopping $ 12 million last year.

Over the years, the event has come to associate itself with some of the most influential people from fashion, film, music and art fraternities, who grace the occasion by coming together to raise money for the Met’s Costume Institute and to inaugurate its latest exhibition.

This year’s keynote has been chosen as ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’, wherein the exhibition explores the fashion industry’s ongoing relationship with the Catholic Church, and the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.

Met Gala 2018 – Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

The exhibit features masterworks from some of the most revered designers including Coco Chanel, John Galliano, and Cristóbal Balenciaga, alongside 40 vestments and accessories that span 15 papacies, taken on loan from the Vatican.

The showcase will be on display at three locations: the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval galleries at the Met’s Fifth Avenue location, and further uptown at the Cloisters.

By way of an exclusive partnership with the Vatican, the show marks the first-time ever when certain papal vestments have been displayed outside of Vatican City. These garments will be presented in a space separate from the area dedicated to contemporary fashion.

Pieces such as Pope Benedict XV’s white silk cape embroidered with gold thread and the pointed bishop’s hat of Pope Leo XIII, are on display alongside garments by Coco Chanel, John Galliano, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Donatella Versace.

Sartorial symbolism is taken very seriously in the world of fashion and catholic references are no newcomer to this concept. With nearly 2,000 years of symbols to get inspired from, Catholicism and religious iconography have been a huge influence on the fashion industry.

In fact designers such as Coco Chanel, Gianni Versace to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, have freely and exuberantly utilized catholic iconography multiple times within their collections. In their modern day incarnation, religious references were a mainstay in the recent dresses designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino and Riccardo Tisci’s designs for Givenchy.

Besides posing as an edifying excursion, the Met Gala is also known for its iconic red carpet moments that go down in the history of fashion…

The invite-only event is helmed by Vogue’s EIC Anna Wintour, who wheels the extremely-exclusive guest list. Popular names like Rihanna, Amal Clooney and Donatella Versace joined her to co-chair the Met Gala this year.A-Listers such as Madonna, Lana Del Rey, Cardi B, Blake Lively, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, Katy Perry, Priyanka Chopra, Selena Gomez, Deepika Padukone, Zendaya and Sarah Jessica Parker, were all present.

The theme was duly adhered to this year, but a few influencers dramatically stood out for their daring fearlessness which was communicated through their choice of garments.

Rihanna, who was also a co-host this year, dressed as a female pope in a heavily embellished dress designed by John Galliano for Maison Margiela, while Katy Perry turned up as Archangel Gabriel, bedecked in a golden dress by Versace, and boots with a 6-feet wide white feathered wingspan to complete the look.

Lena Waithe caused quite a stir by turning up in a rainbow striped cape evocative of the Catholic Church’s complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community.

“The theme to me is, like, be yourself,” Waithe stated to the New York Times. “You were made in God’s image, right?”

Standing up for gender equality at an event that is themed around an institution whose teachings officially oppose same-sex marriages, was indeed commendable.

In total, more than 150 ensembles, ranging from the early 20th century until now are exhibiting in the Byzantine and medieval galleries in the Robert Lehman Wing, and at The Met Cloisters alongside medieval art from ‘The Met’ collection. The exhibition provides an interpretative context for fashion’s ongoing engagement with Catholicism through the years.

The ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ exhibition will open to the public from May 10 onwards and will be on till October 8, 2018 at The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters in New York.

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