Met Gala 2018: How the Catholic theme inspired divine fashions
Josmar Taveras, USA TODAY
When Anna Wintour, the iconic Vogue magazine editor, wanted to surprise celebrities at the recent Metropolitan Museum of Arts Gala, she turned to a Northville travel agency with connections to the Vatican.
John Hale, president of Corporate Travel Services and father of five, isn’t exactly into pop culture or fashion. His focus is of a higher calling as he helps people, organizations and sometimes choirs — including the Sistine Chapel Choir — arrange destination trips, tours and excursions.
Hale, who is Catholic, and his wife, Kristan Hale, are both patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, Michigan Chapter, and on the board of the Michigan Opera Theatre.
Wintour has been the force behind Met Gala — which is sort of like the Oscars for those in the fashion world — since 1995. It is an annual fundraiser oozing in couture fashion and surprise performances.
For the May 8 event, Wintour decided to incorporate the Catholic Church and its impact on fashion as this year’s theme.
Rhianna, Amal Clooney and Donatella Versace served as co-chairs of the 2018 Gala, which celebrated its 70th anniversary. The event was topped by a surprise performance by the Sistine Chapel Choir, which is how Hale and his firm got involved.
John and Kristan Hale (Photo: Courtesy of John Hale)
Wintour read a New York Times article about his agency and how it was arranging for the choir’s visit in 2017.
Hale didn’t know who Wintour was when her staff reached out.
“I actually stopped returning calls after learned this was for an event that wasn’t connected to the (choir’s 2017) fall tour,” Hale said.
Hale’s firm has been involved in numerous tours to Rome, the Vatican, Lourdes and other places.
“We developed a relationship with the Sistine Chapel Choir just as they were becoming good again,” Hale said. “They are the pope’s choir and the oldest choir in the world. Under Monsignor Maestro Palombella, they have also become the finest choir in the world.”
Hale was asked to organize a tour on behalf of the Sistine Chapel Choir last year. He arranged a three-city trip that included Detroit. He was aided in the effort by the Archdiocese of Detroit, Ford, Lear and other local and national sponsors.
The choir, made up of 35 boys ages 9 to 13, and 20 adult men, were treated to trips to The Henry Ford, a Detroit Tigers game and a Detroit Red Wings practice at the new Little Caesars Arena.
The choir enjoyed Detroit so much that members insisted on coming back to the Motor City during their upcoming eight-city tour this summer. They will perform at the Detroit Opera House on July 11.
Hale and his staff were sworn to secrecy about the choir’s appearance at the Met Gala. And it did not disappoint, as Madonna, George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez and other A-list celebs, were there.
So, too, Hale and his wife.
Hale’s company, Corporate Travel Service, is more than 50 years old and has six divisions. Hale’s father-in-law, Joe DiFranco, started the firm. Hale and his brother-in-law David DiFranco have owned it the past 10 years.
Hale is a lawyer who once worked as a clerk for Dorothy Comstock Riley, then at Bodman and Ford.
His got into the tour business by chance. He’s an alum of the University of Detroit Law School and was asked to organize a tour for the school to London for alums.
“It was a great tour and slowly I became more interested in organizing travel experiences,” he said.
His father-in-law saw his passion and business opportunities and invited him into the business to start a new performance travel division. They have organized pilgrimages and religious tours to the Holy Land, Rome and the Vatican.
“We work for parishes, dioceses, archdioceses, radio stations and publications throughout the U.S.,” he said. “We have been hired by the Vatican Museums Patrons to organize their major donor events and pilgrimages. We organize the pilgrimages for the Papal Swiss Guards to the Holy Land four or five times a year.”
They have also produced festival music events at venues including Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles and Carnegie Hall.
Hale organized a tour for the Archdiocese of Detroit Choir under the direction of Joe Balistreri to sing for a papal liturgy two years ago at St. Peter’s Bascilica.
Balistreri was also chosen to serve as national artistic coordinator for the Sistine Chapel Choir tour this summer, which is a big honor.
Seeing Madonna, Amal Clooney and many other celebs at the May 8 Gala was a lot of fun. Admittedly, though, it wasn’t quite in the same league as meeting His Holiness.
“We organized a group of 2,000 children from over 30 choirs, including St. Francis Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, to sing for a papal liturgy in Rome in 2016. The pope came to one of the auditions and I had the chance to meet and speak with the Holy Father.”
The travel business has been strong which is good news for Hale. And it is changing as people look for different experiences.
“Whether it be through faith, music or educational travel, we have developed relationships that benefit our groups traveling to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” Hale said. “The travel business today is really all about delivering life changing, life enhancing experiences that people can’t get on their own.”
Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See MEDC’s Jeff Mason, Carolyn Cassin, Charlie Beckham and L. Brooks Patterson on this Sunday’s show.
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