Could gala have nudged church in the ribs?

Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala...
Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala last week. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Catholic Church could take inspiration from the divine outfits at the Met Gala, writes Kevin McKenna.

There are many reasons why Roman Catholicism has always reigned as the established faith of Hollywood. In the list of the world's top five-most photogenic and charismatic faiths, I would say Catholicism just edges it from Judaism, with perhaps Shintoism fighting it out with one or two of the more vivid African and Latin-American death cults for third place.

But when you have got the Madonna, the Borgia popes and a saint for every day of the year in your portfolio, Catholicism is always going to be there or thereabouts when the prizes are being handed out at the end of the season.

Catholicism has often lent a sense of mystical foreboding to some of Hollywood's greatest movies. Francis Ford Coppola used the old faith to mesmeric effect in The Godfather and especially in the tumultuous baptism of fire sequence at the end. In this, Coppola beautifully depicts the holy sacrament of baptism that celebrates birth, life and innocence as a structure to convey the unholy trinity of vengeance, violence and death upon which Michael Corleone will rule his earthly kingdom.

And without Catholicism, The Exorcist just does not work at all. For cinematic purposes, you simply could not have an old Presbyterian Bible-thumper telling the devil that has possessed Regan that if he does not cut out all that superstitious vomiting and head-swivelling malarkey he is going to hell or at least be hit with a summons to attend the next meeting of the Kirk session. A wizened old priest deploying a crucifix as a chib with a tub of holy water and a litany of Latin abjurations is the only language that Satan and Hollywood directors seem to understand.

Being raised in a west of Scotland Catholic environment added a dash of colour to an otherwise monochrome existence. And if you were chosen to be an altar-server, assisting in the preparation and presentation of the Mass, this was spiritual glamour indeed. From getting dressed up in a nice white surplice over a flowing black or red soutane and getting to ring the bell at the consecration or dispense incense from a golden thurible was to encounter a wee dash of Hollywood. There were ancillary benefits, too: you got to jouk out of school whenever there was a funeral or a weekday wedding and it served as the perfect ice-breaker whenever you were trying to gain the favour of nice, but distressingly devout Catholic girls. Jesus, women, death and Celtic: it was an intoxicating elixir. One of my former newspaper editors, the brilliant and agnostic Mark Douglas-Home, returned full of wonder from the Requiem Mass of a former colleague.

``Catholic funerals are brilliant. No matter how poor or ordinary you are, they always treat you like a prince when you die.''

It was entirely appropriate, then, that the Met Gala in New York last week was inspired by the iconography and ritual of Catholicism. This is a major fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute and attracts the biggest stars in New York's A-list firmament. The theme for the evening was ``Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination''. Unfortunately, some high-profile Catholics such as Piers Morgan took offence at this joyful depiction of their faith, feeling that it was disrespectful. I thought it was all just grand. I was particularly impressed with the outfit of Lana Del Rey, which I thought worked well as a homage to Our Lady of Sorrows.

The American singer chose what looked to me like a simple white gown (it might have been chiffon, but you never know these days), which acted as a dramatic counterpoint to the big gold heart on her chest being pierced by seven swords to depict the agonies of the Virgin.

I must also commend Kim Kardashian's subtle arrangement, which initially drew a caustic response from ignorant fashionistas who obviously do not know their Versace from their elbow. Kardashian's golden metallic gown with bijou crosses scattered about was, I thought, an eye-catching and prayerful veneration of a gold communion cup.

It transported me back to that snap of her on the cover of Paper magazine's 2014 winter collection edition in which she celebrated Jean-Paul Goude's iconic ``Champagne incident'' picture. However, I was not sure about Sarah Jessica Parker's effort that included a hat done up to look like a mini-nativity scene.

In their eloquent analysis of the Met Ball in The Conversation, the authors, Katie Edwards and MJC Warren, concluded: ``While a Pope Rihanna might seem laughable or heretical, the church has been resisting increasing pressure to ordain women as priests. The Met Gala shows that religion is being killed by outdated ideology rather than a lack of interest in it. Rather than just over-the-top fashion statements, the outfits worn by Solange, Rihanna and others represent a challenge to the white patriarchal status quo.''

In Scotland, the numbers attending church have fallen dramatically in the last two decades, driven away by boredom and a sense of betrayal over the attempted cover-ups of widespread child sex abuse.

Women priests would go a long way to restoring some trust in the church and repairing the havoc wreaked upon it by generations of ageing white male clergy and hierarchy who, too often, look as though the only aisles they would rather be in are the ones at Homebase or Ikea. And if they were given some room to push the boundaries of their choices in clerical apparel, then so much the better. It could be the new Pope Couture.

Kevin McKenna is an Observer columnist



Spartan Protestantism informs horror en plein air. 'The Turn of The Screw' is Anglican, 'The Witch' New World Puritan, as simple folk in cloche caps and fustian battle the Supernatural, which may be a figment of the imagination. Protestantism is such a broad and schismatic faith that followers may chose the explanation that means most to them.