The Costume Institute Gala at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is an annual fundraiser to benefit the museum’s collection of fashion costumes and accessories from all over the world. Lovingly known as the Met Gala, the theme each year is determined by the costume institute's exhibition. Past themes have been inspired by everything- from specific fashion designers to modern technological advances. In 2018, the theme was religious and cultural ties: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Vogue aimed to “create a dialogue between fashion and the masterworks of religious art."
Anna Wintour, Chief Editor of Vogue, has been chairing the Met Gala since 1995. She is commonly known as the mastermind behind cultivating the Met Gala as it is known today. Her input determines everything from the guest list to the actual execution of the exhibit. Her 2018 team for the production of the show included Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Donatella Versace, and Christine, and Stephen A. Schwarzman. The theme was selected to show the cultural inspiration the Catholic religion has had on vast aspects of the fashion industry. The board realized that fashion and religion are complex and contested dynamics. They do not always have a favorable interplay but in both the gala and the exhibit Museum Curator Andrew Bolton hopes that people viewing the theme would participate in his shared hypothesis; “about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology”. Naturally, there was an initial backlash for the theme of the Met Gala. Anytime religion is highlighted in fashion there will be controversy. However, the exhibit and the gala received full support from the Vatican. They loaned garments and jewelry to be featured in the temporary exhibition.
Lena Waithe wore a Pride Cape to the Met Gala. Instead of literally embodying motifs of Catholic symbolism and religion she embodied what God meant to her. She believed the theme was for her to show a reflection of herself: “You talk about church and Catholicism, it's about—you were made in God's image...The theme to me is to be yourself”. Her suit and cape combination was designed by none other than Wes Gordon for Carolina Herrera. Her cape was noted not only as a political statement but for its irony, the house is known for it’s intricately designed ball gowns. Gordon worked closely with her to create this ensemble. The cape was fastened with Byzantine-inspired Maltese crosses.
When I initially saw this look I did a silent cheer. Waithe has become an icon for the LGBTQ+ community and she decided to use her platform to make a political statement. It garnered her a lot of media attention and since her introduction at the 2018 Met Gala, she’s developed into a red carpet favorite.
Zendaya donned a custom Versace gown with a short train, spiked belt, and shoulder piece. Sporting a cropped Maid of Orléan bob, she was a modern-day Joan of Arc. Her look was a forwarding thinking homage to the woman being burnt alive before the church realized she was a Saint. Her armor mixed hard and soft with the traditional armor being mixed with sparkles. Underneath her armor was a full-length dress, complimented by metallic platforms. At the 2017 Met, Gala Zendaya wore a bold Dolce & Gabbana gown. This look was a complete 180-degree turn. Her outfit received mixed reviews with most fashion critics juxtaposing the look to formal ball gown centered looks. Every time I look back at this look I am surprised by a new detail. She managed to embody the theme with unconventional ease. Her outfit was such an interesting and intricate creation that it has definitely gone down in Met Gala history.
Rihanna commonly known as the Queen of the Met Gala called on none other than the Pope himself for inspiration in her look. Queen RiRi’s tribute to the Pope in a Maison Margiela gown worn with a papal tiara. This particular design was worn by Popes from the medieval era all the way up until the 1960s. Her dress, strapless and hand-beaded was complimented by a matching jacket, pearl anklet, jewel-encrusted Louboutins, and a bejeweled crucifix necklace. This look truly belongs in a museum. Everything about it from head to toe is awe-inspiring. Rihanna is no stranger to destroying the Met Gala but she really outdid herself. Every year that Rihanna attends the Met Gala she stays within them and executes her look in a way that’s larger than life. Surprisingly, her attire received little to no backlash. It was understood that Margiela's creation was a work of art on its own. Rihanna was absent from the most recent Met Gala and we will be patiently awaiting her return.