We’ve now had a week to digest the photos, the fashion, and the inevitable memes of Met Gala 2018. Hopefully a week has been enough time to take in the weird, wonderful, and worshipful experience that was this year’s annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. Each year the gala’s theme is based on the Institute’s summer exhibition, and on 10 May Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination opened at both the Met’s 5th Avenue and Cloisters locations. Kim Kardashian was compared to a Eucharist chalice, haloes abounded, and ‘Rihanna going full pope’ is now a phrase.
Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at the Costume Institute, states that the goal of Heavenly Bodies is to create a discourse between fashion and Catholicism within the Met’s collections. Vestments from the Vatican (dating from the 18th to 20th centuries) as well as works of contemporary haute couture (20th and 21st centuries) explore the art and iconography of the Catholic church. While the exhibition does not include any medieval artworks, the majority of the textiles are displayed in the Museum’s medieval galleries. Interspersed amongst permanent displays of medieval art and architecture, the exhibition confirms that these modern and contemporary textiles draw considerable inspiration from the art of the medieval period.
This medieval inspiration could also be seen on the red carpet. While some stars donned quite literal interpretations of the night’s theme (see Stella Maxwell or the Gucci gang: Alessandro Michele, Lana Del Rey, and Jared Leto), others went with a more nuanced approach. Whether it was their intention or not, several stars wore pieces that recall certain medieval objects, some in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum itself.
Vestments & Textiles
Drawing inspiration from medieval textiles seemed to be a favorite for designers. Anya Taylor-Joy’s brocade dress utilizes the same colors and pattern as a chasuble at the V&A, while Blake Lively’s ensemble displays a gathered train of intricate beading that recalls a particularly exquisite example of opus Anglicanum.
Finally, Naomi Watts’ outfit reminds me of the Virgin in Coronation of the Virgin by Giovanni di Paolo, which can be found in Gallery 956 of the Robert Lehman Collection. Fun fact: Watts’ dress was hand-embroidered and took 8,262 hours to create, bringing to mind the laborious hours it took to embroider opus Anglicanum and other luxurious medieval vestments.
Venerating the Virgin
Not surprisingly, halos were a favorite fashion accessory for the evening. The most talked about has been Solange’s halo, which was hand-braided and attached to a long, flowing do-rag embroidered with the statement, “My God wears a do-rag.” Solange told reporters that her outfit’s inspiration was from the Black Madonna and African saints. Others chose to dress in all gold—some with more amounts of fabric than others—and recalled Jeanne D’Evreux’s devotional image of the Virgin and Child in the Louvre. Kate Upton’s ensemble reminded me of Cimabue’s Madonna and Child, and Amber Heard’s combo of a shockingly bright red dress with an elaborate halo mimics another work in the Robert Lehman Collection, Saint Mary Magdalen.
And just because we can’t not address this: the Tweet that compared Kim Kardashian to a golden chalice. Here is a 14th-century chalice from Avignon for comparison.
So what are we to make of all this, dare I say, pageantry? As art historians and medievalists, what does this mean to our fields? At the very least, the Met Gala has successfully brought together fashion, art of the Catholic church, and pop culture, with inspiration drawn heavily—both on the red carpet and within the exhibition spaces—from art of the medieval period. This means that medieval art has been given a new platform on which it can be appreciated, understood, and enjoyed. Let’s hope this summer’s exhibition can achieve as much success as the gala did—memes included.
Want to see more?
The Catholic church could take inspiration from the divine outfits at the Met Gala: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/13/catholic-church-divine-inspiration-met-gala-kim-kardashian
Met Gala 2018: let us give thanks for the best dress code of all time: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/may/08/met-gala-2018-best-dress-code-catholicism-fashion
The Pope Wears Prada: how religion and fashion connected at Met Gala 2018: https://theconversation.com/the-pope-wears-prada-how-religion-and-fashion-connected-at-met-gala-2018-96290
Met Gala 2018 Dresses Gallery: http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/met-gala-2018-dresses
Heavenly Bodies videos and gallery tours: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies
Interviews with guests on the red carpet: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLztAHXmlMZFQoFoAsNWdg602YhtNdLU9z