Heavenly Bodies

I finally made it to The Met’s new fashion exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination this past weekend. It was beautiful. The Catholics don’t mess around when it comes to dress, and neither do the designers who were inspired by them. The exhibit (which closes this week) was separated into two sections within the main museum: the basement and the upper level. The basement housed true Catholic treasures: intricately embroidered capes, glittering papal tiaras, encrusted cross pendants, bejeweled papal ferulas (scepters). It was interesting to see the Catholics’ interpretation of spirituality, holiness, and religious hierarchy. Colors and materials were instrumental in representing important concepts. For example, gold silk thread was used on all the capes to embroider important religious imagery into them. Gold was very symbolic of heaven. When a new pope comes to power he is given two keys: one is gold, and is the key to heaven, the other is silver and is the key to earth.

The religious hierarchy is also represented via color: priests wear black, bishops wear violet, cardinals wear scarlet and the pope wears white. The upper part of the exhibit housed pieces by high-fashion designers that were inspired by religious dress. The exhibit drew some interesting comparisons between the fashion and religion, specifically on the point of hierarchy. This dress in particular (below), designed by John Galliano for Dior, is so intricate that it represents the high level of skill needed to be at the “top” of fashion, similar to the way this material, color, and level of intricacy was reserved for the highest in power within the church.

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