Its been longer than I care to admit since I’ve been to a museum, and its been even longer since there’s been an exhibition thats peaked my interest as much as this one. On May 10th 2018 The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York launched its biggest Costume Institute collection yet, a seemingly never-ending exhibition full of treasures which has been years in the making. ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ raises the fashion stakes to the level of art, with palatial gowns embellishing mannequins surrounded by many precious objects and architectural pieces. This exhibition also features pieces from the Vatican – some of which have never left their possession before. On view until October 8th, check it out if you can and prepare yourself for a whirlwind experience.
Versace are one of the few sponsors of this exhibition, and Versace’s founding designer created collections where religion (particularly crosses and religious symbols) were a recurring theme in his designs. Gianni Versace’s see-through dresses crafted with gold and silver mesh (as seen above) were a trademark of his that he adorned in crosses. He presented them for AW 1997, but sadly never lived to see this collection hit the runway. These were some of the first pieces I saw in this exhibition, and I was blown away by the subtle merging of art as religion infused into clothing.
The museum’s Costume Institute coordinated with the department of Medieval Art to examine how the aesthetic and image of Catholicism has affected modern clothing and haute-couture. “The exhibition situates costumes alongside religious artworks to provide an interpretive context for fashion’s engagement in Catholicism,” said chief curator Andrew Bolton (Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute). Whether or not you think fashion is able to ignite conversation about religion or spark ideas, it can’t be argued that dress sense is pretty important in any discussion surrounding religion.
It can be argued in the fashion industry that historic and haute-couture designs have earned their place in history amongst halls of art and sculptures alike. For centuries the Vatican have been recognised as their clothing being jewel-encrusted and opulent, you know it when you see it. In this exhibition we see ensembles by Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix and many more that explore the effects of Catholicism on the world’s most infamous couturiers, many of whom are influenced by iconic Catholic looks.
All the elaborate pieces you’ve seen in these images are deeply meaningful and worth their weight in gold. While the fashions may seem distant from the faith of the Catholic church, this elegant spectacle is like no other and embodies the imaginative traditions of Catholicism. This is the kind of exhibition you can spend hours and hours pouring over, and probably won’t really get to know unless you go again and again.