On Monday, May 7th, the Costume Institute will sanctify its love of fashion as it presents “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Designed to create a dialogue between fashion and the masterworks of religious art in the museum’s holdings, the show will be presented in a trinity of locations: the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval galleries at the Met’s Fifth Avenue location, and further uptown at the Cloisters. Central to the conversation will be the papal garb on loan from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican, even in the 1983 Met blockbuster, “The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art.”
The display of these extraordinary ecclesiastical pieces will highlight the enduring influence of religion and liturgical vestments on fashion, from Cristóbal Balenciaga to Donatella Versace, who is a sponsor, alongside Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman, of the show. (Condé Nast will provide additional support.) Among the 150 or so ensembles that will be on display are pieces by Coco Chanel, who was educated by nuns, and John Galliano, whose transgressive Fall 2000 Couture collection for Christian Dior opened with a mitred, incense-swinging pope-like figure who proceeded down the runway to a voice intoning: “Understand the concept of love.”
By placing fashion within “the broader context of religious artistic production” (like paintings and architecture), Costume Institute curator in charge Andrew Bolton, working alongside colleagues from the Met’s medieval department and the Cloisters, aims to show how “material Christianity” has helped form “the Catholic imagination.” The intersection of faith and fashion, the sacred and profane, as it were, has not always been easy—“complex and sometimes contested” is how Bolton characterizes the relationship—but the interplay between the two has inspired some awe-inspiring sartorial innovation.
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