A Peek Inside "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination"

Left: Processional cross, ca. 1000–1050. Byzantine. // Right: Gianni Versace evening dress, autumn/winter 1997–98

Left: Processional cross, ca. 1000–1050. Byzantine. // Right: Gianni Versace evening dress, autumn/winter 1997–98

Si hay una noche del año en la que me entrego a los dioses de la moda es la noche del primer lunes de mayo.

Conocida por ese nombre [“The First Monday in May”] luego del documental de Andrew Rossi (disponible en Netflix), el MET Gala o Costume Institute Exhibition este año se concentrará en la simbiosis que siempre ha existido entre la religión y la moda; en cómo una doctrina religiosa ha sido el punto de partida para tantos creadores que luego han producido algunas de las colecciones más icónicas en la historia de la moda.

“Estamos anuentes que será un tema muy controversial, sobre todo para derechistas o católicos conservadores”, explicó Andrew Bolton, curador del Costume Institute, a The New York Times el otoño pasado, “pero la exhibición se centrará en esta hipótesis colectiva sobre cuál es el imaginario católico y como éste ha comprometido a artistas y diseñadores a darle forma a su creatividad, opuesto a cualquier teología o sociología”. Creo yo que es en esta intersección entre moda y fe, lo sagrado y lo profano, lo que realmente caracterizará a la exhibición de este año.

If there’s one night I command myself to the fashion Gods is the night of the First Monday in May.

Known under this moniker thanks to Andrew Rossi’s documentary (now on Netflix), the MET Gala or Costume Institute Exhibition this year will be focused on the symbiosis between religion and fashion; on how a religious doctrine has been the meeting point for so many creators when it came to creating some of the most iconic collections in fashion history.

“We know it could be controversial for right-wing or conservative Catholics and for liberal Catholics," Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s Head Curator, told The New York Times last fall, “yet the exhibition will focus on a shared hypothesis about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology.”

It’s this intersection between faith and fashion, the sacred and the profane, what will really characterize “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and Catholic Imagination”.

Lacroix wedding ensemble; fall/winter 2007–8 haute couture: polychrome silk brocade, white silk tulle, embroidered gold silk and metal thread, polychrome crystals, and silver beads.

Lacroix wedding ensemble; fall/winter 2007–8 haute couture: polychrome silk brocade, white silk tulle, embroidered gold silk and metal thread, polychrome crystals, and silver beads.

Left: Blue silk jacquard and gold metal passementerie, embroidered Swarovski crystals and gold metal thread and beads; ivory silk faille, embroidered polychrome crystals, gold paillettes, and metal studs; Riccardo Tisci; 2015. // Right: Black silk cloqué and light blue silk taffeta; Cristóbal Balenciaga; 1949. 

Left: Blue silk jacquard and gold metal passementerie, embroidered Swarovski crystals and gold metal thread and beads; ivory silk faille, embroidered polychrome crystals, gold paillettes, and metal studs; Riccardo Tisci; 2015. // Right: Black silk cloqué and light blue silk taffeta; Cristóbal Balenciaga; 1949. 

Dior evening ensemble, fall/winter 2005–6 haute couture. White silk tulle, embroidered white silk and metal thread.

Dior evening ensemble, fall/winter 2005–6 haute couture. White silk tulle, embroidered white silk and metal thread.

A través de una semiótica magistral, la exhibición se extenderá a lo largo de la “santa trinidad” del número 1000 de la Quinta Avenida: el Centro de Vestuario “Anna Wintour”, las galerías medievales del museo así como las alas de claustro en la parte superior del MET.

Una parte importantísima de la exhibición también será el préstamo por parte del Vaticano, el cual estará presentando más de 50 piezas que vienen directo desde la Capilla Sixtina: garbos papales, anillos, tiaras y demás accesorios que datan del siglo 18 en adelante – muchos de los cuales nunca han sido vistos públicamente.

Lo más interesante, para mi, será esta yuxtaposición entre íconos religiosos y más de 150 vestuarios creados por los nombres más grandes de la industria: Guo Pei, Jean Paul Gaultier (cómo no olvidar su increíble colección de alta costura Spring/Summer 2007) y Dolce & Gabbana así como maestros del diseño como Cristóbal Balenciaga, John Galliano (cuya colección de alta costura otoño/invierno 2000 es para mi una de las más transgresivas en esta temática, con un Papa abriendo el show rezando en voz alta: “entendamos el concepto del amor”) o Coco Chanel y su archienemiga Elsa Schiaparelli, todos criados bajo la fe cristiana.

De igual manera no dejemos por fuera la alfombra roja que estoy seguro va a ser fuego sobre fuego. ¿Quién vestirá a quién?, pero sobre todo, ¿cómo harán todos estos artistas – que en su mayoría promueve un estilo de vida secular – para interpretar el catolicismo con respeto y a la misma vez audacia?

The exhibition will take place in the “Holy Trinity” of Manhattan’s 1000 5th Ave: the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval galleries at the Met’s Fifth Avenue location, and further uptown at the Cloisters.

A very important part of this exhibit is the collaboration that has been made with the Vatican which has loaned around 50 pieces that were shipped directly from the Sistine Chapel: papal robes, rings, tiaras, and other accessories from the 18th to the early 21st centuries – many of these have never even seen the public eye.

What is more interesting to me is this dialogue between religious iconography and more than 150 creations by some of the most illustrious names in the industry: Guo Pei, Jean Paul Gaultier (how can we forget his 2007 Spring/Summer haute couture collection?), Dolce & Gabbana and some other by masters such as Cristobal Balenciaga, John Galliano (I do believe his Fall/Winter 2000 haute couture collection for Dior, which opened with a man dressed as the Pope chanting “understand the concept of love”, has to be one of the most transgressive of this topic), Coco Chanel (who was raised by nuns) and her arch nemesis Elsa Schiaparelli, a fervent – and raised – Catholic.

Nonetheless, the red carpet, which will be star studded as always, will create the biggest impact assured by today’s hottest names and their rendition of the night’s theme. Who will dress who?, but most importantly, how will these artists – which by majority promote a secular life style – will interpret religion with respect yet boldness?   

Left: Gold metallic silk satin trimmed with beige feathers, embroidered gold metal paillettes, wire, beads, and gold metallic ribbon; Rodarte; 2011. // Right: Ivory silk taffeta and gold-painted feathers; Mugler, 1984. 

Left: Gold metallic silk satin trimmed with beige feathers, embroidered gold metal paillettes, wire, beads, and gold metallic ribbon; Rodarte; 2011. // Right: Ivory silk taffeta and gold-painted feathers; Mugler, 1984. 

Left: "Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara"; El Greco; 1541. // Right: taffeta evening coat; Cristóbal Balenciaga; 1954. 

Left: "Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara"; El Greco; 1541. // Right: taffeta evening coat; Cristóbal Balenciaga; 1954. 

Left:  Manuscript Leaf With Scenes From the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi; 1320. // Right: taffeta evening dress; Madame Grés; 1969.

Left: Manuscript Leaf With Scenes From the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi; 1320. // Right: taffeta evening dress; Madame Grés; 1969.

Left: mid-14th century tempera on wood, gold plated Follower of Lippo Memmi,  Saint Peter. // Right: evening dress; Elsa Schiaparelli, 1939.

Left: mid-14th century tempera on wood, gold plated Follower of Lippo Memmi, Saint Peter. // Right: evening dress; Elsa Schiaparelli, 1939.

Fragment of a floor mosaic with a personification of Ktisis; 500–550. Byzantine. Marble and glass. 

Fragment of a floor mosaic with a personification of Ktisis; 500–550. Byzantine. Marble and glass. 

Dolce & Gabbana Fall/Winter 2013 evening dress. 

Dolce & Gabbana Fall/Winter 2013 evening dress. 

Left: Christian Lacroix "Gold-Gotha" ensemble, autumn/winter 1988–89 haute couture. // Right: Anna Wintour's first American Vogue cover. 

Left: Christian Lacroix "Gold-Gotha" ensemble, autumn/winter 1988–89 haute couture. // Right: Anna Wintour's first American Vogue cover. 

Tiara of Pius IX, (Reigned 1846–78); 1854 cloth of silver embroidered with gold metal thread, gold, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and pearls.

Tiara of Pius IX, (Reigned 1846–78); 1854 cloth of silver embroidered with gold metal thread, gold, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and pearls.

Left: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, British, c. 1607, silk and metal // Right: Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino Spring 2014 haute couture evening dress. 

Left: Bible and Book of Common Prayer, British, c. 1607, silk and metal // Right: Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino Spring 2014 haute couture evening dress.