The theme for the 2018 Met Gala has been revealed, and it’s unlike anything the Costume Institute has done before. “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” will, according to Vogue, “create a dialogue between fashion and the masterworks of religious art in the museum’s holdings.”
It’s a far cry from this year’s Rei Kawakubo homage, and even farther from the futuristic 2016 “Manus x Machina” theme.
The exhibition will include papal garb on loan from the Sistine Chapel, much of which has never been displayed outside the Vatican, along with more than 150 designer garments inspired by various aspects of Catholicism. It will take place at not one, but three locations: the standard Anna Wintour Costume Center, the museum’s medieval galleries, and uptown at the Met Cloisters. It’s the Costume Institute’s largest exhibition yet, and, given the scope of the topic, will probably be its most ambitious.
It also has the potential to be highly controversial, both inside and outside of the elite fashion and Hollywood circles that attend the gala. For one thing, the Catholic Church and the fashion world tend to have wildly different beliefs when it comes to hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion, and anything that seems like too much of a celebration of the Church could lead to friction within the community.
There’s also the potential for the theme to be seen as sacrilegious, especially when it comes to ill-considered celebrity interpretations on the red carpet. This was a notorious problem during 2015’s “China: Through the Looking Glass” gala, during which many celebrities were accused of cultural appropriation and Orientalism.
But it’s impossible to deny that both fashion designers and their muses have long been inspired by religious iconography, from Madonna’s cross necklaces (not to mention her stage name) to collections like Dolce Gabbana Fall 2013, Jean Paul Gaultier Autumn/Winter 1993 and Spring 2007, Christian Dior Autumn/Winter 2000, and Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2000.
“We know it could be controversial for right-wing or conservative Catholics and for liberal Catholics,” said Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton told the New York Times. But we have confidence that the exhibition will inspire understanding, creativity and, along the way, constructive dialogue, which is precisely a museum’s role in our civil society.”
The gala will be co-hosted by Donatella Versace, Amal Clooney, and Rihanna, who at this point is pretty much queen of the event’s red carpet. However provocative or not the exhibition turns out to be, we know whatever Riri is wearing on the First Monday in May will be worth talking about.