Every spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute puts on a themed exhibition. It is launched with the star-studded, red carpet Costume Gala – a fundraiser chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. While previous themes have been hit or miss, this year’s theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, is enigmatic and quite spellbinding. Now I’m no fashionista by any means. The lone black Calvin Klein party dress in my closet is my one go-to garment for special occasions. And I bought it on sale! 😆 But it can’t be denied that couture designers are true artists. They are full of creative expression, vision, and virtuosity, doing things with silk, satin, tulle, chiffon, beading, draping, and accessorizing that I couldn’t imagine ever doing myself. Pairing these designers with the Catholicism theme would naturally produce an exhibition that is theatrical, intense, mystical, and visually dazzling.
The Catholic faith practice utilizes a treasure trove of accoutrements and adornments. It is rich and elaborate, beautiful in its devotion and layered depths and textures, with saints, statues, and icons, incense and chalices, veils and intricate vestments, Madonnas and Virgin Marys, angels and archangels, holy water and rosary beads, Latin mass and “in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”. Put these inspirational elements in the hands of fashion creatives and you have quite a show. But as one would expect, this year’s theme also brought its share of controversy. While New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was completely supportive and even attended the gala, other Catholic voices and clergy were not so approving, calling the display sacrilegious and profane. They were particularly offended when pop star Rihanna showed up wearing a miter – the headdress that is worn only by bishops.
I recently attended the exhibition with my dear friend Janet Cook and we really enjoyed experiencing it together. So much fun! I want to share some of my photos here. “Heavenly Bodies” is on display in three locations: there are papal robes and accessories on loan from the Vatican in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. No photos were allowed there, but they’re definitely worth seeing. Then there are the fashions displayed throughout the Byzantine and medieval wing of the Met. And third are more garments and objects uptown at the Met Cloisters. My photos are just from the medieval wing. “Heavenly Bodies” is on view until October 8, so if you’re visiting New York this summer, check it out!
Angel wings by Alexander McQueen:
Dolce and Gabbana:
Yves Saint Laurent:
Various designers in the ‘Celestial Hierarchy’ gallery:
A row of glittery Versace:
This Jean Paul Gaultier was one of mine and Janet’s favorites:
And this is the one that got us in trouble. The description said the fabric was jersey, and Janet and I wanted to touch it. So Janet, for what seemed like only a millisecond, touched the fabric between her fingers. Sure enough, a hawk-eyed Met guard came right over to us and said, “Ma’am, ma’am, please, you can’t do that!”. Busted. We apologized, then laughed and cowered away in shame 😆