When Catholicism and Fashion Collide: A Night At The Met Gala

Jun 6, 2018

It is probably hard to picture an event that would include the archbishop of New York, the Kardashians and Rihanna wearing a papal hat. But that eclectic crew is just a sample of the guests Anna Wintour assembled for the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, affectionately called the Met Gala.

This year’s theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” A collection of the elite from fashion, entertainment and the Catholic Church gathered to pay homage to the pomp of papal finery.

David Morgan is chair of the department of religious studies Duke University. He wrote the essay for this year’s Met exhibit, and he attended the gala to witness Catholicism collide with entertainment. Morgan joins host Frank Stasio to discuss the clash of these worlds, the impact of Catholic fashions on fashion designers and the history of papal fashion.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Morgan on attending the press preview of the 2018 Met Gala:

It was a remarkable event full of luminaries – New York’s elite. People who fund the Met funded the exhibition  The great icons of the fashion world, some of whom you mentioned, Donatella Versace and Anna Wintour and others as well as the Cardinal (Timothy Dolan) … It was a mediafest. There were more cameras than I could possibly count.

On the mix of A-List elite with Catholic Cardinals:

That was one of the biggest jaw-dropping events of the day for me. To see the Cardinal there, the archbishop of New York discussing Jesus, discussing the theology of beauty amidst what one would normally think of as completely secular world of high fashion.

On how the church was transformed by the Roman Empire:

[One of the ways is] its sense of authority and office and how this is conveyed through costume, through spectacle. And we still see that.  It’s a rich and powerful and fundamental part of the legacy of Roman Catholicism.

On whether Catholics will be offended by the exhibit:

If you talk about the exhibition itself, I would think not. That’s my guess. If you’re talking about the Met Gala, that’s another question. The exhibition itself is designed on the theme of pilgrimage. So one moves through a very large installation of objects throughout extensive parts of the Met, which itself is a kind of temple of art … There’s lots of room to gather round the objects – to see them within the context of Catholic liturgical traditions.  I would be surprised if people were offended.