With what is possibly the most controversial theme in play, plus the fact that this was a night of take-it-out-there fashion, why did the Met Gala feel like merely a blip on the fashion radar? Were the attendees too safe, too scared, or just plain clueless?
Sure, there was an electric sort of anticipation on the days leading up to the 70th Met Gala. Peppering the internet were one-shot articles on what to expect to from whom, who would most likely strike out with stunning looks and how the theme was one for the books. Ever since the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the theme of this year’s curation would center on Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the long dormant stand-off of two extremes were once again shaken to its respective core.
Look, religion and fashion have long had a tension-filled relationship over the years, with each side of the fence calling out the other for harping on their philosophies and dogmas. But as challenged as it may seem on the surface, the two actually have actually shared a symbiotic relationship that not many are necessarily privy to. While fashion has long turned to religion for inspiration that may sometimes toe the line of blasphemy and sacrilege, religion in turn has fashion to thank for educating a jaded set of style-devouring mainstream. That and an elected Pope of the past had a penchant for an eye-catching pair of red Prada slippers.
This perhaps was where the idea of bringing the two together for the Met Gala sprang from. (An early offshoot was the well-received and highly successful Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, where the late designer had the penchant for melding the two bookends together for a visceral whole.) Creating a dialogue between style and sanctity, the exhibition curated by Andrew Bolton aims more than just to poke the sacred sensibilities so to speak. What it intends to do is illustrate the enduring influence of religion and ecclesiastical vestments on veritably pontified pillars of fashion such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Versace, Christian Dior (under the baton of John Galliano) and Chanel, thereby alluding that one is not entirely different from the other after all. Besides, some even go as far as pledging their souls to fashion as a religion. (It’s a bit extreme, but hey, whatever gets one through.)
In this intersection of faith and fashion, understanding the undeterred love for each is heightened, further making the case the mostly “complex and sometimes contested,” as Bolton puts it, derives an imagination that is at the very end an aspiration and inspiration.
With all the work that has gone into the exhibition, Anna Wintour, along with her co-chair Amal Clooney, Donatella Versace and Rihanna, pulled out all the stops for this year’s fundraiser gala. Not only did they have to live up to the standards and success of editions past, they had to give justice to the theme laid out before them. A hotbed of an issue on all grounds, there was bound to eyebrows raised, tongues wagging and even a complete disgust over how the worlds of style, film, music and art would interpret the lofty ideals of fashion and Catholic imagination.
The world was all but prepared for a sacrilegious display of fashion, from a potential smearing of sanctified references to uncomfortable references from the abyss of the Bible, but as the red carpet played host to the who’s who burning up our social media timelines, it became very apparent that the barometer of expectation was barely hitting a lukewarm minimum. Even if the intention wasn’t to take a jab at religion or blatantly defy dogma, everyone seemed to walk on eggshells around the theme, pulling from very similar points-of-view. If we see another chainmail dress inspired by the Crusades of Christianity, we would probably nick ourselves in the thigh much like Olivia Munn on the red carpet. The high-priestess Anna Wintour must’ve been a touch disappointed from behind her signature sunglasses.
Much like the Oscars, this spectacle of a fashion event takes months (or a year even) to prepare for. Fashion designers handpick their muses early on and creates a custom special just for the night, celebrities fight for a spot on the guestlist, every media outlet cranes their necks for exclusives, and the rest just waits for the descending of the galaxy from heaven to the hallowed steps of the Met. Needless to say, there was more than enough leg room to play around, have fun and to let one’s imagination and creativity soar within the bounds of the dress code. However, as the stars trickled in and bathed in the flash of lights, it became apparent that only a handful took the theme to heart.
Yes, there were crosses aplenty, a surplus of crown of thorns, an abundance of halos in every iteration, Renaissance artworks replicated on dresses and Baroque motifs, as well as a sprinkling of ovoid monastic shapes. However, there was a clear lack of imagination and a tempered spirit that even the wings of Katy Perry, the bedazzled Papal hat of Rihanna and even Madonna’s surprise performance couldn’t save. The Met Gala didn’t just need a prayer at this point. It was in dire need of divine intervention. This is where you should have come in, deus ex machina.
There were clear standouts, of course. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was the very definition of an angel as she dripped in gold and punctuated her look with a for real halo, while Solange took to a darker and more twisted extreme in her archived Iris Van Herpen situation. Where their fashion was more streamlined and miraculously minimal, some stunners like Lily Collins compensated with gothic beauty. Meanwhile the men weren’t left too far off as the likes of the Wakandan monarch himself, Chadwick Boseman interpreted the theme with much aplomb.
On the flip side, the Kardashian clan severely underwhelmed with their more very, very loose adherence to the night’s theme. Only Kim seemed to have gotten it close, but really, the dangerously body-hugging gold Versace number scores low on the imagination board. Her previous outings in the Met gala were much more memorable compared to this. And don’t even get us started on Zoe Kravitz and that flimsy lace and ribbon attempt, Gabrielle Union her punchy yellow ensemble, a confused swathing of fabrics on Gigi Hadid and Gisele Bundchen, or even Jaden Smith’s tacky carry-on. (Seriously, dude. That gold record was an all-time low.)
It isn’t to say that their fashion was necessarily terrible. Of course not. While they are beautiful on their own accord, it is uninspired and blasé when quantified by the theme. The long and short of it is, it didn’t fit the bill.
“You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what’s worse, you don’t care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work,” underscores Nigel in the seminal classic, Devil Wears Prada. It may sound shallow or superficial, but what most fail to recognize is that it is in fashion spectacles like these that dreams are formed and legends are made. Roll your eyes all you want, but this is heaven for some; a place where their lives have been leading to—even for just a few short hours. Riverdale‘s Lili Reinhart likened her first trip to the Met Gala to her (future) wedding day. As our Fashion Editor, Jebby Fronda, bluntly put, some women would die for a chance to attend. And yet, here are some blessed and lucky few who throw away an opportunity all because they just want to look pretty.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, a lot of us are crying over the waste of a moment. (We are looking at you Miley Cyrus.) If Blake Lively had to get to the Met in a party bus or fashion heir apparent SJP teetered with an Italian Nativity scene on her head, why can’t the rest of the current fashion folk be more excited or bothered to exert a little bit more of an effort. Remember, at the core of this exhibition is an understanding of love, and based on the stills, there was barely any love left to give.
Much of the fanfare of the festivities has by now mellowed out, but it looks like we will not forget the stunning turn of Zendaya as a contemporary Joan of Arc or even Frances McDormand twirling to her heart’s content and lending her headpiece to several other stars. These are the moments that not only get praised across the board, but it also inadvertently gets seared into our fashion-starved souls. The need for a miracle may have come and gone, but it is only our hope that this lights a fire under the ass of anyone who wishes to set foot on the legendary red carpet of the Met Gala. It’s a lifetime of an opportunity, even if some get invited year after year. Has Rihanna showed signs of taming her fearless take on fashion? Obviously not, and this year, she’s had the high distinction of bringing this celebration come to life.
Now, consider this a time when the church bells ring and the cavalry choirs sing. Wake up, sweethearts. Wake up, don’t allow this form of sacrilege to happen and make the next one count before we’ve had it—officially.
And for the love of God, bring back that joie de vivre for fashion, please.