“There are two aspects of Catholicism [and dress],” Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, mused at an advanced preview of the museum’s latest fashion exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. “One is this idea of spectacle and opulence being a manifestation of one’s faith and beauty. And the other one is the same approach with the idea of simplicity.”
When the theme was announced in November, many critics wondered exactly what aspect the Met would attempt to explore—the influence of religious dress on society? The aesthetic influence of the church in high fashion? Or, as Bolton discussed, the duality of dress within the ranks of the church itself, which sees nuns and priests adopting modest wares, while the Pope exudes decadence. As it so happens, Heavenly Bodies makes a stab at doing it all.
Being a Costume Institute show, designers were always going to play a major role, and there was no shortage of examples to choose from (a staggering 150 looks made it into the exhibit). Iconic works from John Galliano, Versace, and Jean-Paul Gaultier are featured prominently in the Medieval and Byzantine art galleries of the Met.
Ranging from modest wares inspired by nun habits, to more theatrical offerings from McQueen, viewers certainly get a sense of how designers interpret references and themes and translate them into thoughtful collections and pieces—commenting on the aesthetic nature of the church, and its wealth of iconography. Otherwise, there is a bit of a disconnect between space and subject.