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Catholic Catwalks:
A Brief Look at the Faiths Inspiration to Designers

Posted on July 05 2018

Catholic Catwalks:<BR> A Brief Look at the Faiths Inspiration to Designers

Author: William Braggadocio -

Established in 1948 and formerly known as the Costume Institute Gala, the Met Gala is an annual fundraising benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute in New York City. Every year's theme is picked in correlation with the exhibition to be shown, allowing guests to choose outfits to match. The gala is considered one of New York’s biggest fundraising nights, as well as one of the most exclusive social events in the city. Tickets cost $30,000 and up for those outside of the official event guest list, which includes only 650-700 people. Guests range from musician, actors, and even political personalities blending some of the most influential contributors from many different fields.  

 The New York's Metropolitan Museums current curator in chief is Andrew Bolton. Bolton with the help of Anna Wintour, and the Vogue staff, procure the event down to every detail. Andrew Bolton joined the MMACI in 2002, his most recognizable exhibit contribution being Alexander McQueen: Savage beauty (2011). This exhibit showcased Bolton's scholarly rigor, whimsy, and theatricality. Savage Beauty redefined exhibitions for the museum. It was a turning point in comforting the 19th-century ideal of what artwork is, pushing the idea that fashion is also a valid visual form of art.

 This year's exhibit, Heavenly Bodies; Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, is the largest and most theatrical to date and explores the relationship between fashion and Catholicism. For Bolton “It’s the show I’ve always wanted to do. It’s all about the influence of Catholicism on designers, about the links between the church’s imagery and creativity. Being raised Catholic, being immersed in this tradition, has fired the imaginations of so many designers.” Experiencing Catholicism is not just a religion but an aesthetic too. The physical beauty associated with the Catholic Church has only accumulated over time. From pieces like Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper to The Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo religious iconography in artwork has long reflected the pure opulence and power of the teachings.

The Met will look at designers like Gianni Versace, who took inspiration from the micromosaics of the Ravenna cathedral for his fall 1997 couture show. Versace  focused on embellished crosses throughout the collection, ending with what he claimed as the ",Versace bride"; a mini silver dress, with a veil pulled behind her head to expose her face. The season's visual opulence reflected that of the cathedral proposing unapologetic sexuality in the form of luxurious skin-tight gowns and mico-mini dresses. This juxtaposition created a direct defiance of the austerity Catholicism is famous for, drawing compelling parallels between the ideas of purity, sexuality, and money (the root of all evil).  

For his fall1998 show, Alexander McQueen, drew inspiration from Joan of Arc, the Catholic martyr, sending chainmail-like dresses, gauntlets, and red colored contacts down the runway. The show progresses like the martyr's own persecution, slowly delving into madness and violence. Vibrant blood colored snakeskin, tartans, and prints of murdered Romanov children saturate the models who appear possessed, untouchable, and powerful. The show closes with a model who's covered in a blood red garment and mask, surrounded by flames in a haunting reenactment of Joan's Death, while the words "You're gonna make it, you're gonna make it," echo during the dramatic finale, creating a sense of hope for the future.

Even Rick Owens has taken inspiration from Catholicism. His 2009 women's show, Strutter, Explored on purity as a theme. With purity in mind, he focused on nuns. These women's discipline, drive, restraint, and sacrifice appeared almost cultish to the designer, becoming a point of inspiration. Each model was sent down the runway wearing a headpiece inspired by a wimple, an ancient form of a habit.

In the fall of 2011, Gareth Pugh also took inspiration from devotees; sending his version of priests down the runway. Some of his priests wore mosaic jackets, pieced together with geometric shapes. The high neck outerwear pieces were paired with fluid bottoms, which appeared to resemble skirts when in motion. Zipper detailing formed gold or black crosses on some pieces the. The overall effect was that of an elegant and edgy cassock, robes for a darker more brutalist leader of worship. Pugh's presentation even included angels; capes instead of wings trailed the models in vibrant blue tones, blue representing heaven, eternity, and truth as well as the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.

The Catholic influence in creative fields is nothing new. The ancient construct of the church provides a regimented idealism for artists to rebel against. Fashion, in particular, thrives on provocation as an inspirational point of reference. So many designers have looked to Catholicism's restraints and traditions as an opportunity to reinterpret our understanding of religious subversion. Taking the opportunity to create their own "religious" experience for their disciples. Each designer is, in their own way, attempting to collect their own group of followers who will devote themselves to the designer's beliefs. This exhibit brings forth not just the inherit inspirational aspect that the faith has had on many of those showcased in the exhibit but also the creed like environment fashion as a whole has created. Selling not just garments but a lifestyle, practice, and faith in fashion.

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