The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s spring 2018 Costume Institute exhibit is the largest in the museum’s history, spanning 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet. The centerpiece, 40 ecclesiastical wears from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy, was years in the making, and the largest loan to the museum since the successful 1983 exhibit “The Vatican Collections.”
The Met Gala, the benefit event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, is considered the highlight of New York's social calendar, attracting fashion designers and stars from around the world. The event – which first began back in 1948 after it had been founded by publicist Eleanor Lambert – is now one of the most glamorous on the A-list calendar and often dubbed 'the Oscars of fashion'. It is known for its expensive tickets, exclusive guest list, and extravagant outfits that are based around a different theme each year.
This year, the theme showcases how Catholicism has influenced fashion throughout history. Stars rocked up in their best takes, from Rihanna’s literal pope hat to Katy Perry’s feathered angel wings. Jared Leto literally came as a Christ-like figure complete with a crown, and Chadwick Boseman’s all white look emblazoned with crosses were absent from the piece.
Katy Perry was a triumph in Versace. In a gold dress and boots, and with a 6ft white feathered wingspan, she was arguably the most breathtaking representation of the archangel Gabriel since Fra Angelico painted the Annunciation fresco in the Convent of San Marco.
Left: Katy Perry in Versace on the red carpet Met Gala, New York.
"Religion and spirituality has informed my work for my entire career, and fashion also, and combining the two is the perfect marriage," Madonna said.
Left: Madonna with a Jean Paul Gaultier-designed costume that featured crosses in the tiara. (Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)
The Costume Institute Benefit—also known as The Met Gala—began in 1948 as a midnight supper that invited guests could attend for fifty dollars a ticket. The brainchild of publicity doyenne Eleanor Lambert, who dubbed it the "Party of the Year," the event raised funds to support The Costume Institute and celebrated the opening of its major annual exhibition. Since then, the benefit has grown in size, scope, and profile, and remains the vitally important main source of funding for the department's exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital improvements.
This year's Met Gala saw celebrities donning costumes that drew inspiration from religious iconography.
1.2. Michelangelo. The last judgment, a General view
1.2. Ensemble, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for Dolce & Gabbana, autumn/winter 2013–14; Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis, Byzantine, 500-550
1.2. Evening ensemble, John Galliano for House of Dior, autumn/winter 2000-2001 haute couture
The evening's theme, "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," inspired the singer and actress Zendaya to don the armor of one of Catholicism's most famed icons: Saint Joan of Arc. Her custom metallic Versace gown features an armored neck-and-shoulder piece, sparkling chainmail, a spiked belt, and a modest train. Zendaya also adopted a cropped wig in the style of The Maid of Orléans' famous bob.
Joan of Arc was a teenaged French peasant who fought bravely for the French during the Hundred Years' War. In 1431, the English captured her, put her on trial, and convicted her, burning her at the stake when she was just 19 years old. Pope Callixtus III named her a martyr in 1456.
The Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest costume exhibit in the museum's history. The exhibit is set up as a pilgrimage, exploring the historic relationship between fashion, art and religion, and it opens to the public on May, 10.
The works are mostly from designers who, for the most part, were raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Guests can observe how Catholicism has shaped the imagination of those designers.
The Costume Institute's spring 2018 exhibition is at The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters.
Many of the pieces in the collection express Catholic imagery and specific religious garments, which reflect medieval architecture in their designs. There are also 40 garments of the 150 piece ensemble from the Sistine Chapel, many of which have not been in The Met’s possession since 1983.
Behind the choir screen in the cathedral-like gallery, the exhibit continues with the conceptual divide between heaven and earth, full of images of angels, the Virgin Mary and a bride via Christian Lacroix and more.
Beyond, in the Robert Lehman Wing, a slew of angels in gold Lanvin rest alongside Renaissance paintings.
The exhibit is housed in two main locations: the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters (in Fort Tryon Park above Washington Heights). Curator Andrew Bolton and team designed the exhibit with a pilgrimage in mind. The full journey begins in the Byzantine galleries of the Fifth Avenue location, with fashions from Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, inspired by ancient religious art and architecture.
It continues into the medieval galleries, with fashion that references the church’s hierarchies and gender distinctions, including nuns and priests. Here, Alexander McQueen, Valentino and Dior preside.
Next is the Anna Wintour Costume Center where the liturgical pieces encompassing more than 15 papacies from the 18th to the early 21st century are housed unto themselves.
And last is the Met Cloisters, where things get a bit more cerebral with minimalist fashions, inspired by monasteries.
The Vatican loaned 40 rare items of religious significance from its archive, including a papal tiara featuring 18,000 diamonds and pieces worn by Pope Benedict 14th in the 1600s, which is also on display.
Tiara of Pius IX (r. 1846–78), 1854. German and Spanish. Courtesy of the Collection of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, Papal Sacristy, Vatican City. Digital composite scan by Katerina Jebb
Heavenly Bodies runs through to October 8, 2018
Based on materials from metmuseum.org, vogue.com.
Title illustration: Movie stars at the Met Gala. Photo: Vogue.com