Met Gala 2018: celestial success or a holy hell?

9 May 2018

The Met Gala is, we are told, the fashion event of the year.  It screams decadence, glamour, and style.  A-listers clamour for invites, B-listers can forget it!

I went to school in NYC, a block over from the Met, so I have watched the preparation (days of cordons, security, and even worse traffic jams on Fifth Avenue than normal) and the event itself first hand.  These days, though, I am reduced to scrolling through photos on the sidebar of shame.  It’s a bit like the morning after the Oscars.  On speed.

Held on the first Monday of every May since 1946, the ball is a highly exclusive fundraising event designed to raise money for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Tickets go for nearly £20,000, and there are between 650 and 700 guests, each personally approved by the American Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, on whom The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly was allegedly based.  No one gets in without her say.  Even Kim K didn’t make the cut until she married Yeezus, the man who made a fashion empire out of moth-eaten stretch bandages.

The theme each year is selected to parallel the annual fashion exhibit at the Costume Institute.  This year’s choice was ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’.  It is said that Pope Francis himself personally approved the event, the brainchild of curator Andrew Bolton, and that over 40 items for the exhibition have been donated from the Vatican directly.  Sarah Jessica Parker seemed to have one lodged in her hair.

Celebrities channelled some divine inspiration to create a red carpet dripping in gold, jewels, and religious symbolism: crosses, wings, and at least one glittering mitre.

Whilst many have praised the theme, with the Guardian’s Jess Cartner-Morley declaring it the “best dress code of all time”, which “required honouring the theme of Catholicism in fashion without being seen to make fun of it”, others have questioned the political correctness of the event.

In 2018, when, at our very own university, the theme of ‘solstice’ for Trinity Hall’s (cancelled) June Event was deemed offensive to a Wiccan student, Trump faced widespread criticism for favouring ‘Merry Christmas’ over its deliberately neutral, all-inclusive ‘Happy Holidays’ counterpart, and Gucci was condemned by the Sikh community for putting white models in turbans, it seems genuinely surprising that the theme was approved.

I hate to quote the odious Piers Morgan, columnist in the equally odious Daily Mail and general hate figure, but I am going to, since when he says, “if the Met Gala was Islam or Jewish-themed, all hell would break loose” I think he makes a fair point, or at least provides the beginning of an interesting discussion.  It is surely a valid angle to consider, and indeed unlikely to imagine Hollywood’s “flesh-flashing celebrities” donning other religious garb free of criticism, yet Rihanna as a scantily-clad female pope is interpreted by some as empowering and iconic.

I pondered why a society so willing to characterise some things offensive and charged, considers the trivialisation of religious imagery in this context acceptable.  Perhaps the celebrity elite can get away with such behaviour because they glamourize it and because the world’s icons – the Kardashians, J Lo, the Hadid sisters – are held to a different standard.  Or perhaps it is because people consider this a true homage to Catholicism, rather than an attack or mockery.

Or maybe it’s just because the event, despite all the pouting and posing, does not take itself too seriously, and begs us not to either.  It’s meant to be fun and creative.  It’s meant to be pretty, not thought-provoking.  Take your lead from the utterly fabulous and irreverent Francis McDormand giggling behind her absurd headpiece.

In that lighter spirit, here’s just one (non-Catholic) viewer’s top picks:

MY TOP FIVE BEST DRESSED:

  • Blake Lively: because you’d look that good if you had Ryan Reynolds in your bed every night.
  • Kim Kardashian: it all looks better covered up, love.  Less is more.
  • Stella Maxwell: honestly, more Madonna’s than Madonna (who, of course, performed ‘Like A Prayer’ at the event).
  • Zoe Kravitz: a black lace held together by but two tiny bows, way better than massive safety pins, Liz Hurley…
  • Hailey Baldwin: not too hot in terms of the dress code, but my God she is living my fantasy (pink hair + Shawn Mendes on your arm).

MY TOP FIVE WORST DRESSED:

  • Amal Clooney: somehow didn’t get the memo on the theme, which is odd since she was on the committee and probably wrote the memo… Maybe she doesn’t want to get controversial before George’s rumoured presidential bid?
  • Cara Delevigne: a full body fishnet stocking and yellow ears is never a good look.
  • Solange Knowles: it really can’t ever be chic to have to enter a room sideways.
  • Alexa Chung: aren’t you a bit old for your first holy communion?
  • Shailene Woodley: Oz called: Tin Man wants his suit back!