All eyes were on the Metropolitan Museum of Art last night for the Costume Institute’s annual megawatt Met Gala. The star-studded evening was celebrating the opening of “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” featuring contemporary fashions inspired by the Catholic faith, as well as a selection of garments lent by the Vatican, on view at the museum through October 8.
Appropriately, the celebrities in attendance included a number of famous Catholics, such “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert and Madonna, who later performed her 1989 hit, “Like a Prayer”—known for its controversial music video’s use of religious imagery, such as burning crosses—inside the party.
Keeping in mind the more conservative tastes of the Vatican, which loaned a slew of works to the exhibition, guests largely avoided the so-called “naked dresses” popular at Met Galas of recent vintage. The main trend was elaborate headpieces, crowns, and halos, clearly inspired by religious iconography. The Catholic theme also lent itself to plenty of art historical references, thanks to the church’s long history as a patron of the arts. Here, we turned a critical eye to rank the evening’s best art-inspired looks.
Following in the footsteps of Vogue‘s Anna Wintour, George Clooney and Amal Clooney were the evening’s first celebrity arrivals, with George joking that their one-year-old twins were hiding under his wife’s dramatic train and that he’d be dead if he stepped on it.
Amal, who served as one of the evening’s co-chairs, was wearing a dress-over-pants number by British designer Richard Quinn, recently named the first winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. His bold floral patterns appear to be based on vintage Liberty London prints, but the colorful look is also reminiscent of the busy backdrops in Kehinde Wiley paintings, like his instantly iconic portrait of Barack Obama.
A huge part of Catholic art is the stained-glass windows that grace most churches. Gigi Hadid was like a contemporary Louis Comfort Tiffany design, with her long train of rainbow panels. Like many of the night’s biggest names, Hadid wore Versace—Donatella Versace was among the evening’s co-hosts.
Owning the red carpet was event co-host Rihanna, who pushed the envelope on the “Sunday’s best” dress code with her racy take on the traditional attire of the leader of the Catholic church. The pearl-encrusted Maison Margiela number by John Galliano looked like a painting of Pope Joan, the female pope of legend who was apocryphally revealed when she gave birth during a procession (perhaps a sly reference to tabloid rumors that Rihanna is pregnant), and the singer’s dramatic mitre headpiece was a clear reference to the old-school papal tiaras, a medieval holdover retired by the Catholic church in the mid-1960s.
Not only was it Lena Waithe’s first Met Gala, it was her first time visiting the museum ever, she admitted. Her outfit for the night, however, was based on the iconic rainbow flag, symbol of LGBT pride. Designed by Gilbert Baker, the rainbow flag entered the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2015. “I told them I wanted to make a statement, and this is what they came up with,” she said of her colorful cape by Carolina Herrera. “It’s like my skin. I’m proud to be in it.”
The fashion rags are all about Emilia Clarke’s Met Gala hair and makeup, but we loved the Game of Thrones star’s strapless black-and-gold dress by Dolce and Gabbana. Like a wall of frescoes, there were “paintings” of cherubs framed by the gold filigree embroidery. The gown, in its Baroque splendor, calls to mind the Boucher Room at New York’s Frick Collection. With her golden crown, it was easy to envision Daenerys Targaryen finally claiming the throne of Westeros.
Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey channelled her Catholic background in her look from Gucci, with a stunning breastplate of a heart pieced by seven swords. The look was the Mary as Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, and it was straight out of religious art, the stabbed heart symbolizing the virgin’s sorrow over events in her life such as the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The singer topped off her white ensemble with a spectacular headpiece of blue angel wings and a halo, a veritable Renaissance painting come to life.
The Met Gala’s best-dressed list tends to be dominated by the ladies, but the hip hop trio Migos held their own at last night’s event, in a matching ensemble from Versace. Their heavily sequined jackets were similar to several looks from the designer included in the exhibition, and also appeared to feature designs based on paintings and sculptures.
The trio couldn’t tell artnet News (standing on the red carpet) anything about the classical-looking statues pictured on their blingy garb, but confirmed that one of their iced-out necklaces was, in fact, a character from the Crash Bandicoot video games. “It’s Aku Aku,” Quavo told me.
Much of the night was about the Renaissance and the Medieval era, but we also saw a more contemporary influence in Katy Perry’s show-stopping Versace look—the singer had to turn sideways to fit inside the Met doors. Her massive angel wings could have been out of any religious painting, or they could be inspired by street artist Colette Miller, who has been painting “Angel Wings” murals in Los Angeles since 2012.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Every year, you can count on Sarah Jessica Parker to make a statement at the Met Gala, and 2018 was no exception. If you had told us the former “Sex in the City” star had converted a statue from the Met’s Medieval collection into a headpiece for the evening, we would have believed it. Her golden crown featured an entire nativity scene beneath a gold canopy.
Salma Hayek’s gorgeous blue-and-green gown, featuring animals and lush foliage, was a custom Hayek Altuzarra and François-Henri Pinault. The form-fitting dress was based on Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Eden, a painting that has an entire gallery dedicated to it at the Cloisters in “Heavenly Bodies.” We loved this sequined take on a famous masterpiece.
Taking top marks for the night was Ariana Grande, who chose the Vatican’s most famous artwork as the basis for her gorgeous Vera Wang-designed dress. “This is the Sistine Chapel ceiling-slash-back wall; it’s the Last Judgement scene, and it’s where Christ decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell,” Grande said.
The singer didn’t answer when artnet News asked if she’d ever visited Vatican City, but Wang chimed in: “I don’t know if she has, but she knew that’s what she wanted.”
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