“You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty”. Exodus 28:2
Glory and beauty are without a doubt two words with a great force. Glory causes respect and with it, you become highly regarded, and beauty, causes harmony and so it is a key factor for something to become worshiped. Moreover, beauty, it would seem, has never been despised, not even by the creator of the universe himself. So with that idea put on the table, writing about fashion and the Catholic Church has been something that has been in the back of my mind for some weeks now. The idea actually sounded even more appealing the day I found out that the theme for the 2018 Met Gala will be exactly this: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”.
Now first of all, and as a Catholic myself, I would like to say that the idea of taking inspiration from Catholicism for fashion sounds brilliant to me. Although I believe that there are certain lines that certainly are not allowed to be crossed in order to respect a religion, the idea of making garments that were inspired by Catholic symbolism is appealing. But here’s one essential thing, and it’s something that has been talked about nonstop in regard to the Met Gala exhibition that is coming up on May 10th: “there will be provocation and controversy”. While the current Head Curator of the Met, Andrew Bolton when asked about the controversy of the exhibition said that “there will always be viewers who’ll try to reduce it to a political polemic”, there is actually a lot more to talk about.
We are living under circumstances where there’s currently a battle between those who consider themselves liberalists and those who consider themselves conservatives, in every sense of scenario you could think of. Especially now when the difference between Pope Francis we have now and the last one (Pope Benedict XVI) is crystal clear. Talking in a language redirected more into fashion, Pope Benedict XVI was sensed as a liturgical dresser, fancy and in essence looked upon as someone who was making the church go backward, whereas Pope Francis now is making the Catholic Church move forward with the unique modesty that characterizes him. Actually, to begin his service, he started off by rejecting the fetishization of clothing within the church, promoting a simpler and humbler way of clothing that was translated into a lifestyle proposal. Although Pope Francis is clearly making a great job at stopping the monarchic mien that the Catholic Church has always had in society, it’s inevitable that there will always be an association between the word lavish and Catholic imagery, and that has been the root of inspiration for most design houses.
Now it’s fair to say that things have been changing a little bit, our society is more drawn to simplicity than ever before, that simplicity is modest and humble, humble is nice. But when it comes to the exhibition that is going to be presented, I don’t think the idea is to propose an extravagant comeback, neither a showoff of how “rich” the Catholic Church has been over the years. On the contrary, I think that the main objective or idea of the exhibition is just to put on evidence how Catholicism has influenced the most successful and recognized designers in the world, and to me, it also has to do with dropping a hint that faith has a lot to do with the whole picture. The reality is, that most of the designers that are getting their work displayed were raised as Catholics, and that has a lot to do with how the inspiration came from in the first place. The truth is, whether you consider yourself religious or not, religion has an attracting effect on the human mind, so it makes sense that Catholicism found a way to engage designers into finding their approach in their creativity mindsets.
To set that thought, let’s go over some examples of Catholic imagery inspiration, that I’m convinced that will be displayed in the exhibition. The first ones would, of course, have to be Italian designers such as Versace or Dolce & Gabbana, who have been influenced by Catholicism since their childhoods. Dolce, as he lived a Sicilian life, got inspired by the mosaics of Sicily’s Cathedral of Monreale, and Versace got inspired by papal robes and decided to implement the color purple more into his collections. Moreover, a couturier such as Jean-Paul Gaultier publicly said that his collection on 2007 was a hundred percent inspired by the Catholic Church, and more specifically, the Virgin Mary. And to add a little more into the idea, even Alexander McQueen took a more dramatic turn into one of his collections in 1998 with cardinal-style jackets and going as far as presenting a model in a ring of fire.
So let’s go back to glory and beauty, one more time. The theme of Catholicism will always have people talking and expressing opinions of all kinds, but you can’t deny that the garments that will be displayed, along with accessories on loan from the Vatican will certainly give a feeling of nostalgia among the people who get the idea of faith, and especially for the ones that truly appreciate what’s behind all that symbolism. On the other hand, fashion wouldn’t be fashion without some controversy, it’s all a matter of respecting the ideas and traditions of others plus always seeing the world with an open mind. At least that’s how I know successful people in fashion got inspired.