"Fashion and Religion" May Be the Met Gala's Most Controversial Theme Yet
By Florence Quintanilla
The fashion industry has never ceased to be relentlessly controversial in its choices of self expression, often offending marginalized groups. That’s why next year’s rumored Met Gala theme, “Fashion and Religion,” did not surprise many fashion devotees; it demonstrated the underlying insensitivity of the fashion industry. While the theme has not yet been confirmed by Vogue nor the Metropolitan Museum of Art, several sources revealed the choice to WWD.
The Met Gala is a yearly event hosted by Vogue to fundraise for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With ticket sales starting at $50,000 a guest, the event attracts A-list celebrities and designers alike. In 2015, the Met Gala sparked controversy with their theme “Through the Looking Glass,” which showcased the ways Western designers have drawn inspiration from Asia, however, many fear that “Fashion and Religion” will be even more problematic.
Designers, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Christopher Kane, and Dolce & Gabbana, have successfully referenced religion in their collections before. For example, Dolce & Gabbana incorporated their Roman Catholic roots in their designs by using crosses, Madonnas, and other biblical symbols. However, religion has never been explored (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) in this way. Selecting "Fashion and Religion" as a theme for designers to navigate could lead to problematic situations, especially now at a time where islamophobia and anti-semitism are on the rise.
Religion is an essential part of our identity and it is often associated with race. Christianity is associated with white Americans, Islam is associated with Middle Eastern and African people, Buddhism is associated with Indians, Roman Catholicism is associated with Europeans and Latin Americans, etc. Although this is evidently not accurate for everyone, it portrays specific stereotypes of each group. With religion comes cultural appropriation, racism, colonialism, and imperialism; the worst of all the -isms.
Cultural appropriation is bound to happen at the 2018 Met Gala. The fashion industry is known to be guilty of cultural appropriation time and time again. The difference between appropriation and appreciation is simple: appropriation is using Gigi Hadid to model a hijab for Vogue Arabia, appreciation is wearing traditional clothing for an Indian wedding. It’s a very thin line, but an essential one to protect already exploited customs and cultures. While brands have been more careful in their content and how it is presented to the world, there are still major brands that lack in hiring models of color in their shoots and commit other microaggressions. The Met Gala’s theme is bound to reinforce this practice as a norm in the fashion industry.
Let’s face this: a large majority of high fashion is consumed by and produced by white people. Using others’ cultures due to a lack of their own with a message of unity will simply be a blatantly ignorant message to send at a time of discord and conflict in the U.S. and around the world. Fashion can be a great platform to express yourself and share a passion with others around the world, regardless of race or religion. However, at a time where people are being killed over their race and religion, it is not morally right to exploit these things in the name of art.