The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is taking us to church this Met Gala. On May 7, fashion and religion join for the museum's latest “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" exhibit. It's not the first time the themes will come together in some sort of style matrimony, but, per the museum, over 150 ensembles will be on display, showing just how the two are connected; some are borrowed directly from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, while some are on loan from designers like Chanel, Balenciaga, John Galliano — remember that collection he did for Christian Dior, which opened with a pope-like swinging incense? — and Versace.
The industry has long had a weird obsession with religion — Catholicism specifically. First, there are those designers who were/are actually catholic — like Elsa Schiaparelli, John Galliano, Riccardo Tisci, Christian Lacroix, Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Norman Norell, or Thom Browne, among others. Then there are those who blatantly reference the church and its traditions. Though Dolce & Gabbana is best known for their continuous reinterpretations of religious iconography, fashion has seen an array of different designers provide their own takes on faith, from McQueen's sinister look at religion, to Tisci's ‘Jesus Is Lord’ graphic tee at Givenchy.
But the Costume Institute's annual exhibitions are more than just spectacle. They prove that fashion is more than just what we wear — or what people wore, rather; they're visual and contextual explainers of just how clothes penetrate below the surface, and across cultures, centuries, and yes, even religions, too. As Diane Winston, MS, PhD, professor of media and religion at University of Southern California, tells Refinery29, “To experience Catholicism is to experience not just a religion but an aesthetic. [Catholicism] is all about beauty. The Catholic Church has been very wealthy for a long time, so they’ve been able to accumulate amazing artwork, beautiful religious vestments, [and] amazingly built cathedrals.” As odd as the pairing may have initially seemed, it really makes total sense.
Ahead of the First Monday in May, we're looking back at how different designers referenced Catholicism over the years. In the wise words of DJ Khaled, "bless up!"