The event – officially titled “heavenly bodies” – should not have happened because it involved celebrities sexualising, commodifying and undermining the Catholic religion and church, according to critics.
Each year, the opening of the Costume Institute’s exhibit at New York’s Met Museum is celebrated with a huge grand opening, attended by the world’s biggest celebrities and marking one of the high points of the fashion calendar. The event and the exhibition are always organised around a theme – which sometimes celebrates individual designers, but occasionally looks at entire subcultures or countries.
This year’s event saw celebrities draw from the vast history of Catholic art and channel into outfits that included Nativity headpieces and a huge pair of angel wings. One of the most-discussed looks was Rihanna’s Margiela “pope” dress.
But many online commentators argued those outfits appeared to be examples of cultural appropriation.
The accusation comes in the wake of a high-profile argument that erupted after a teenager wore a traditional Chinese dress to her school’s prom. One response on Twitter – which read: “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress” – has been retweeted more than 40,000 times.
Many commentators used that same format to criticise the Met Gala theme. “My religion is not your costume,” wrote one.
“Among the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life,” tweeted another. “Heresy at its finest.”
Others suggested there would be a much bigger outcry if other religions had been chosen as the event’s de facto theme.
“Surprised people aren’t calling out the #MetGala #MetHeavenlyBodies for being offensive to Catholics,” wrote one Twitter user. “But if it was another religion everyone would be up in arms.”
The Vatican not only gave permission for the theme, but also provided a whole host of clothes and other items for the accompanying exhibition.
The Met and the Vatican worked together for more than a year to procure more than 40 items for the event, and curator Andrew Bolton was even given access to the hidden chambers where nuns look after the pope’s clothes.
It is far from the first time the event has been accused of cultural appropriation.
In 2015, the theme was “China: Through the Looking Glass”. For that event, some were accused of sexualising traditional Chinese clothes, while some wore kimonos, traditionally associated not with China but with Japan.
But the event was also praised for the respect and care most of its attendees were perceived to have afforded the theme.
The accompanying exhibition – which was explicit about the fact it was exploring China’s influence on the West, rather than Chinese fashion itself – was even praised as “surprisingly respectful” by fashion website Racked.
The Independent has contacted the Met Museum for comment.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies