Ahead of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s biggest Costume Institute exhibition to date, which opens in May, fashion's key players met with leaders of the Catholic faith at the Galleria Colonna yesterday to preview some of the artefacts that will be on display during the show. Curator Andrew Bolton said at a press conference last night that we can expect Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination to be one of the museum's most ambitious undertakings to date.
The exhibition, “designed to create a dialogue between fashion and the masterworks for religious art in the museum’s holdings,” will explore the impact of religion and faith on designers, while archival pieces from fashion's most influential figures will be on display. Clothes and accessories from Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Azzedine Alaïa, Cristóbal Balenciaga and John Galliano will be exhibited, alongside the Met's collection of breathtaking religious artworks.
Opening on the first Monday in May, Heavenly Bodies will borrow around 40 liturgical pieces spanning 15 papacies from the Vatican, some of which have never left the sacristy (where vestments and items of worship are held). On Monday evening, guests at Rome's Baroque Palazzo Colonna – a formal papal residence – were treated to a glimpse of the opulent religious vestiges. Anna Wintour, the exhibition's co-chair, teamed her signature pristine bob with a royal red velvet dress, complete with a high neck and pinched shoulders, while Italian designer Donatella Versace wore a neon patchwork dress emblazoned with Vogue covers from the Versace SS18 collection.
On show was an embroidered silk cape worn by Pope Benedict XV, Pope Benedict XIV's 18,000-diamond tiara, and Pope Leo XIII's bishop's hat. The question on everyone's lips, though, was how does one exhibit such relics, and indeed explore such a subject, while remaining respectful of the religious? “Some might consider fashion to be an unfitting or unseemly medium by which to engage with ideas about the sacred or the divine,” Bolton said to guests in Rome yesterday. “But dress is central to any discussion about religion. It affirms religious allegiances and, by extension, it asserts religious differences.”
"Fashion reflects the world around us and nobody understands that more clearly than Andrew," Wintour told the press. "When I go to these fashion exhibitions, I'm always so amazed to see people from all sides of the globe and all walks of life really studying the exhibitions, understanding that fashion does not operate in a vacuum."
Heavenly Bodies clearly has the church's approval, with the Vatican's culture minister Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi addressing the audience and noting both the necessity and symbolism of clothing within religion. “God himself was concerned with dressing his creatures,” he stated.
After Dolce & Gabbana's heavily religious-themed AW18 collection debuted over the weekend in Milan, we can only guess how many celebrities will be dressed in their offerings at the exhibition's gala opening night. Cherub-embroidered two-piece, anyone?