The month of May is synonymous with “the party of the year” in fashion’s fundraising calendar, aka The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s spring gala and exhibition. This year’s extravaganza is Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and kicks off with a star-studded gala co-hosted by Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Donatella Versace and Anna Wintour on Monday May 7, while its ecclesiastically inspired exhibition – the biggest The Costume Institute has produced, spread across two locations – opens its doors on Thursday May 10, running until Monday October 8.
Those making the pilgrimage to the show will find some 40 masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy – many never seen outside the Vatican – displayed at the Anna Wintour Costume Center on Fifth Avenue alongside a trove of intricately embroidered papal vestments, ceremonial tiaras, cuffs and rings dating from the 18th century to the early 21st. The Met’s medieval, Byzantine and Lehman galleries and north Manhattan’s Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park are a fabulous setting for a showcase of around 150 ensembles – primarily women’s clothing – many shown beside collections of medieval art.
The exhibition highlights the dialogue between fashion and the traditions, practices and sartorial statements of Catholicism, and many of the designers featured were influenced by faith and iconography in their work. They include Azzedine Alaïa, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and, of course, Dolce & Gabbana. The influence of religion is less obvious and, perhaps, all the more intriguing in the pared-back designs of Rick Owens, Raf Simons and Olivier Theyskens, which will create an interesting counterpoint to the haute-couture glamour represented by the glittering gowns of Gianni Versace, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino and Galliano for Dior.
Oscar de la Renta once stated that “a women makes an outfit her own with accessories,” and those set to make a big impression at the show include magnificent millinery by Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy. The jewellery selection, as one would expect, will feature rosaries and simple silver crosses, and many have been reimagined or reproduced for sale by jeweller and Met Museum alum Donna Distefano. The gift shop selection will include vermeil charm bracelets ($195) with papal charms, and rosaries in sterling silver adorned with bold, Florentine-style pendants ($595), rock crystal ($250) or black onyx ($750). Cameo necklaces bearing images of the Madonna and child have been crafted in silver ($1,500) and gold ($3,000) and will be available in limited editions, while the early-Renaissance-inspired engraved papal ring ($1,250) depicts religious emblems and the name of Pope Paul II.
“Fashion and religion have long been intertwined – mutually inspiring and informing one another,” says curator of The Costume Institute Andrew Bolton. “Although this relationship has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion.”